Analyst says Caspian needs middle-way boundary treaty

To end the long-standing political stalemate over maritime boundaries in the Caspian Sea, the area's five coastal states will have to forge a common middle-way agreement that balances demarcation with shared use, a UK-based academic specializing in energy policy in the region said Tuesday. But Sergei Vinogradov warned the five nations have "a long road ahead."


Darius V. Snieckus
OGJ Online

LONDON, May 16 -- To end the long-standing political stalemate over maritime boundaries in the Caspian Sea, the area's five coastal states will have to forge a common middle-way agreement that balances demarcation with shared use, a UK-based academic specializing in energy policy in the region said Tuesday.

Sergei Vinogradov, a senior research fellow at the University of Dundee's Center for Energy, Petroleum, and Mineral Law and Policy, said compromises between Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Iran blending "division and common use" would provide a solution to border disputes dating back to 1991.

But noting that a Caspian Summit on the topic of maritime boundaries had been postponed four times since Turkmenistan first suggested it in March 2000, Vinogradov cautioned that there was still "a long road ahead."

"What we have in the Caspian is not a clean slate. We still have an outdated legal regime based on two international treaties (signed before 1945)," he said. "But the issue of the Caspian Sea is not addressed in either of these treaties in such a way as to eliminate the current problems of maritime boundaries and seabed regimes."

Russia and Kazakhstan, he said, want to divide the Caspian seabed but leave its waters open to common use. Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan believe "in principle" in complete partition of the Caspian into national sectors, though, according to Vinogradov, these two states appear to be shifting toward broad acceptance of the Russian-Kazakh model. He said Iran is holding out for either joint development of the maritime region or division into national sectors of "equal" size, that is, 20% to each coastal state.

"I still expect that, eventually, the seabed will be divided, (because) the oil industry needs certainty," he said, noting that Russia's joint statements this year with Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan have opened the door to a model wherein the seabed would be delineated using a "modified median line" running down the Caspian.

"But I also think that Russia will never agree to a complete partition of the (Caspian) Sea, and will prevail in its idea of common use of the waters.

"The Caspian Sea issue did not exist 10 years ago. Except to geographers and the people of the region, the Caspian Sea was quite irrelevant," said Vinogradov. "But with the disintegration of the Soviet Union, all of a sudden we had these five independent states struggling to divide this still undivided pie of oil and gas."

He underlined that the boundary disputes in the Caspian Sea will only have a direct impact on oil and gas fields near maritime borders -- such as Kyapuz-Serdar field, claimed by both Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

"Generally, of course, the unresolved legal status continues to not be conducive to serious oil industry investment," he added.

Vinogradov believes the joint proposal made in 1996 by Russia, Iran, and Turkmenistan to divide the Caspian using a 45-mile zone of national jurisdiction with areas of joint ownership might have solved the region's maritime boundaries problem, except that many of most significant oil finds lie close to the dividing lines.

Contact Darius V. Snieckus at dsnieckus@ogjonline.com

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