THE INTERNATIONAL LEGAL STATUS OF THE CASPIAN SEA: GEOPOLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS OF THE CASPIAN STATES AND HYDROCARBON RESOURCES
Sergey Zhiltsov, D.Sc. (Political Science), Research Professor at the Department of Political Analysis and Control, Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia (RUDN) (Moscow, Russian Federation)
The dissolution of the U.S.S.R. and the achieved independence of the former Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan) have led to a change in the geopolitical situation in the Caspian region. Five entities of the international law appeared on the shores of the Caspian. Almost immediately, there emerged a problem of defining the status of the Caspian Sea. Russo-Persian and Soviet-Iranian agreements, in spite of the centuries-old history, did not determine the international legal status of the Caspian Sea and, therefore, did not regulate questions of subsoil resources’ utilization. The need for regulating the development of mining in the Caspian region was absent during the period of the U.S.S.R. since all of the Caspian Soviet republics were subjects to its unified code of laws. Furthermore, in contrast to the 19th century, when the output of the Caspian region’s oil fields had an impact on the world oil market, in the 20th century, the center of oil production began to shift to other regions of the Soviet Union. Accordingly, the interest in the Caspian region and its hydrocarbon resources was sharply reduced.
The question of the international legal status of the Caspian Sea arose immediately after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and was caused by discrepancies in the national interests of the states of the Caspian region, as well as the lack of legal measures that would be adhered to by all the countries of the region and which could serve as the basis for determining the international legal status of the Caspian Sea. The New Independent states (NIS) of the Caspian region were not parties to the previous treaties, which did not meet their political and economic aspirations.
The discovery of large oil and natural gas deposits in the Caspian Sea had posed not only a question of the definition of its international status, but also the question of how to divide the Caspian natural resources. The earlier Russo-Persian (and subsequently Soviet-Iranian) treaties were concerned only with issues of regulating navigation and fishing and did not affect the questions of exploration, extraction, and transportation of crude oil and natural gas by installing pipelines on the bottom of the Caspian Sea, etc. Not having any historical commitments, the new Caspian countries—Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan—began to pursue a unilateral policy, in which their national interests prevailed.
Despite the divergent positions, the Caspian countries managed to achieve bilateral and tripartite agreements on the legal status of the part of the Caspian Sea. This gave precedence for creating legal means for further development of oil and gas fields on the Caspian Sea shelf. Within the five-sided format of negotiations, the countries of the region are continuing negotiations, planning to sign the Convention on the international legal status of the Caspian Sea in 2017.
Keywords: Caspian Sea, Caspian region, international legal status, hydrocarbon resources, Caspian states.