A meeting of the Caspian countries’ presidents that is being held in Ashkhabad has brought no results yet. This would be the topic of the day, if presidents of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan managed to divide the Caspian Sea. Unfortunately, no breakthrough occurred.
Contradictions between participants of the meeting were extremely great, so the presidents of the five states refused to sign a declaration on the legal status of the Caspian Sea. Turkmenistan President Saparmurat Niyazov was especially distressed with this fact. He said that the declaration on which experts from all sides had been working for several years was “a senseless document.” The resentment of the Turkmenistan’s president can be understood. Indeed, he was one of the five presidents who tried to suggest something new. In Niyazov’s words, exploration work should be suspended on the disputable sectors of the Caspian Shelf until the final definition of the sea status. In addition, Niyazov offered to fix a 15-mile inshore zone plus a 25-mile economic zone. That would make up 40 miles under the jurisdiction of every state from the Caspian Sea region. In his opinion, “there should be no area if tge sea area shared by the countries.”
Finally, the president of Turkmenistan said that it would be nice to create a council of the Caspian countries’ presidents, which would be summoned once a year. Its president would be elected on a rotary basis. The head of the council would be authorized to summon experts on the Caspian Sea and foreign ministers from the Caspian countries to settle urgent problems.
However, the initiatives met no approval at the summit. Almost all of the countries of the Caspian region are eager to start the development of oil and gas fields as soon as possible. Even being aware of the fact that several countries at once may claim to the same field, the states are not afraid of conflicts that most likely will result. The economic profits is obviously very large, which is why the countries of the Caspian Sea focus on the development of bilateral projects. It was reported several times already that Russian and Kazakhstan companies are getting ready to start the joint development of North Caspian oil fields. In addition, Presidents Putin and Niyazov concluded a partnership and friendship agreement between the two countries in Ashkhabad. Russia’s president was presented with a stallion of an especially precious breed at the meeting. Both countries hope to be friends and cooperate in the Caspian Sea region. Time will tell what is to come of it.
On the whole, it looks as though the presidents of the five countries arrived to Ashkhabad to look at each other and repeat once again arguments to support their personal views on the problem. Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan still wish to divide the sea bottom and leave the water area in common use. Iran claims not less than 50% of the Caspian Sea area (but it is not clear on what grounds). Turkmenistan is more likely to keep its neutrality and agree with none of the parties. The situation is still the same. A top-level meeting on a similar problem is scheduled for April 2003 in Teheran. Its results can be easily predicted even now.
Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru
Translated by Maria Gousseva