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Paradigm Shift in Caspian Sea

* Dr. Mehmood Ul Hassan Khan

Caspian Sea has been changed. The 5th Summit of the heads of the Caspian states in Aktau, Kazakhstan has inked a historic agreement “the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea (CLCS)”.

It has multiplier effects on its regional economies, politics, civilities, securities, natures and above all humanities. Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have reached a landmark agreement on the division of the Caspian Sea and put an end to the dispute over the legal status of the body water that started with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Under the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea (CLCS), the Caspian Sea is neither a lake nor a sea, despite its name. The agreement establishes a formula for dividing up its fishing and seabed resources, including oil and gas.

Elements of regional security, greater socio-economic integration, logistic connectivity, energy security, optimal utilization of available natural resources and the last but not the least, better political understanding have been enhanced because of the historic agreement on Caspian Legal Status (CLS). It is the giant leap for regionalism and productivity. It is the right step in right direction for regional security and stability.

Now most of the Caspian Sea is a shared area; however, the seabed and natural resources are divided between the five countries. The sea will benefit from a special status with free access from all the coasts, going beyond the concept of territorial waters. A key factor is the delimitation of seabed boundaries, whose precise definition must be the subject of further negotiations in bilateral rather than multilateral discussions. It established territorial waters not exceeding 15 nautical miles from the shoreline. Further 10 miles are defined as exclusive fishing zones. Remaining surface of the sea is kept for common use.

Another feature of the agreement that has wider implications is a prohibition on military vessels from non-littoral states in the sea because Caspian is a vital security area for Central Asia, straddling Afghanistan and the Middle East. For Russia, securing its Caucasus region from encroaching terror threats is paramount. The Caspian Sea deal has excluded any external military power from gaining a foothold. Under the agreement, the sea is to be solely for the use of the five littoral countries. That means the US and NATO is forbidden from entering the area or setting up military facilities in the future. It has been one of the main concerns to Moscow, since NATO has expressed plans to expand membership to Georgia in the South Caucasus, adjacent to Azerbaijan.

It is a gigantic achievement which has multiplier dividends. Simply, it is a paradigm shift in all aspects of sustainable development. It is a strategic development which will accelerate bilateral and trilateral cooperation in the fields of economy and commerce, science and technology, agriculture, transportation via, sea, road and air, joint ventures and the last but not the least, energy cooperation within the region and beyond. Simply it is a dream, comes true.

During the 5th Summit, Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan hold to the principle of dividing into national sectors based on the “median line” principles since it is an “international boundary lake”, and leaving the sea surface for general use, i.e. they are for demarcation of mineral resources and the Caspian Sea shelf, but against dividing up its waters.

Iran, in particular, has long resisted determining the Caspian a “SEA” because Iran’s corner of the Caspian is the deepest, saltiest and least resource-rich. Iran long pushed for an equal division of the Caspian’s resources: 20 percent each of the seafloor and the surface. This was opposed by Kazakhstan, in particular, as the Kazakh corner of the Caspian has some of the richest oil and gas fields.

Iran seeks an equal division of the Caspian into five even sectors, mainly because most of the offshore energy resources are located away from the Iranian coastline. Turkmenistan also demands the division of the Sea into equal parts between the pre-Caspian countries so that each country has 20 percent of the sea. All the five Caspian Countries took a compromise approach, treating the surface as international water (i.e. a sea) and dividing the seabed into territorial zones, along the lines of a lake.

Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships.

The five Caspian Sea nations has already develop offshore oil and gasoline reserves which are positioned close to sufficient to the coast to not be disputed. Projects within the northernmost waters Kazakhstan’s big Kashagan area and Russia’s Filanovsky and Korchagin deposit are seen as sources of future oil-output development for the international locations.

It follows more than two decades of discussions, with negotiations on the international legal status of the Caspian Sea taking place regularly since 1996. More than 50 working group meetings took place to prepare for the convention. After numerous discussions and four previous summits at the heads of state level, the convention has been finally agreed upon.

It ends a spat over whether or not the Caspian is a sea or a lake, granting it particular authorized standing and clarifying the maritime boundaries of every surrounding nation. It additionally permits every to put pipelines offshore with consent solely from the neighboring states affected, relatively than from all Caspian Sea nations. The document regulates access to the surface water and sea bed as well as various issues, including fishing, pipeline construction and environmental concerns.

The five nations Caspian Sea agreement shows the importance of diplomacy for mutual benefit and security. It is anti-unilateralism. It promotes concept of shared socio-economic prosperity and collective security parameters by respecting elements of sovereignty and dignity of others. It is victory of peaceful means over use of brutal power and sanctions. It upholds supremacy of law. It strengthens the importance of conflict resolution through diplomacy, dialogue and development.

It cares even nature, natural resources, climate change and of course human civilization. It reflects strong political will of all the five Caspian Countries to agree on difficult equations/propositions and they all prefer concept of accommodation and greater virtue to move forward.  It is a defining moment in the ongoing, massive drive towards Eurasia integration. It will further strengthen ties of multiculturalism, and cultural diplomacy in the region.

For over 20 years, the seashore nations of Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Russia have been locked in dispute over territorial rights governing the Caspian the world’s largest inland body of water. Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed the agreement as “epoch-making”, saying it would pave the way for greater cooperation and prosperity among the Central Asian neighbors. Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani told delegates: “Our region could be an example of stability, friendship and a good neighborhood.”

With the signing of this historic Convention, a new era of large transit, transport and logistical opportunities of Azerbaijan along the North-South and East-West corridors has begun. Moreover, a new era of cooperation with neighbors was opened and facilitated. After this agreement the biggest world oil and gas companies Chevron, Exxon, Shell and BP would be able to increase the number of their projects in the region for a health competition.

It is predicted that it will have serious economic, security and political implications for the region and beyond. It will pave the way for the construction of a Trans-Caspian Pipeline something that Turkmenistan and Europe need. It encourages pipelines of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. It will change the energy landscape of Europe. Turkmenistan alone has the world’s fourth-largest proven natural gas reserves. And, as technology improves, there will likely be even more resources discovered in the region. Russia and Iran have appreciated the provision of security and non-presence of any outside country in the Caspian Sea.

It is predicted that diversified but integrated seacoast development, high growth of the oil and gas industry, regional projects for the development of the international logistics infrastructure, connecting Europe and Asia will be accelerated in the region stimulating coordinated international cooperation based on legal norms, equality and mutual consideration of interests of all Caspian littoral states. The legal status of the Caspian Sea has remained unsolved during the past two decades, preventing development and exploitation of its disputable oil and gas fields and creating obstacles to the realization of major projects.

Azerbaijan, for its part, will gain huge benefits as a transit country when oil is exported from Central Asian nations via the Caspian Sea and may possibly get access to another oil block, while strengthening relations with Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.

It is predicted that the positions of Caspian ports including Turkmenbashy port the largest and most modern port in Caspian Sea will be important transport and logistic hub of TRACECA corridor, the part of internationally recognized programme aimed at development of economic relations, trade and transport communication in Black Sea basin, Southern Caucasus and Central Asia.

Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev termed the signing of agreement a “Constitution of Caspian” which will provide equal opportunity for all the five Caspian Countries to move forward. It is the reflection of strong political will to achieve a difficult goal. It values diplomacy over destruction, dialogue over dissident and development over disorder. It promotes concepts of positivity and meaningful engagements. It negates concept of unilateralism and imposition of sanctions. It cares about security, military compulsions and stimulates peace and harmony in the Caspian region. It loves with nature, seashores, birds, animals and sea spices which are endangered.