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  • The Fifth Caspian Summit in Astana: to be or not to be?

    18.10.2017 | Comments | International Relations | 76 Lidiya Parkhomchik

    On October 6, 2017, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Astana to have consultations with his Kazakh counterpart Kairat Abdrakhmanov. At the joint press conference following the talks, Lavrov stated that the V. Caspian Summit would be hosted by Kazakhstan next year as the heads of states agreed (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, 2017). In this connection, it is worth noting that during the last meeting of the ministers of foreign affairs of the Caspian states held in Astana on July 13, 2016, Sergei Lavrov expressed optimism that the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea designed to consolidate the legal norms of interaction in various fields in the region could be ready to be signed in the first half of 2017. According to his remarks at that time, the parties made progress in this direction and the only thing the Caspian states needed was the right wording for the principles agreed by the presidents at the IV. Caspian Summit in Astrakhan[1]. However, then Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov made more cautious forecasts than the head of the Russian delegation stating that while the parties still have a common outlook for signing the convention at the forthcoming Astana Summit, it was difficult to say exactly when it would happen, especially taking into account the work that had to be done on the remaining issues[2].

    Despite the ongoing consultations within the framework of the Special Working Group (SWG) on the elaboration of the convention at the level of the Caspian states’ deputy foreign ministers, there are no signs of scheduling the Caspian states’ Foreign Ministers meeting, which should determine the exact dates of the Caspian Summit in Astana. In his latest interview, State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia Grigory Karasin expressed the view that the Caspian Foreign Ministers meeting could take place before the end of this year and specific dates were being negotiated through diplomatic channels (Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, 2017). However, since too many uncertainties remain on drafting the final text of the convention, there is no guarantee that the parties would be able to schedule the meeting until at least the 50th meeting of the SWG, which is planned to be held in Iran in October 2017.

    In 2017, the SWG already held two meetings aimed to find a mutually acceptable solution to the Caspian Sea delimitation problem. However, right after the 48th meeting of the SWG held in Baku on January 25-26, 2017, deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian Sea littoral states summarized that unresolved issues of baseline, seabed and sub-seabed division, as well as navigation issues, including free access to the Russian Volga-Don shipping canal and free passage of warships through the territorial waters, and issues of laying submarine cables and pipelines are still on the agenda for negotiations. Furthermore, Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia and Pacific Affairs of Iran Ebrahim Rahimpour mentioned that the ongoing discussions on the legal regime of the Caspian Sea could be considered as complicated technical talks (Daneshvar, 2017). As a result, the 48th meeting of the SWG did not lead to any significant progress on the issue of the Caspian Sea delimitation. As for the 49th meeting of the SWG held in Ashgabat on June 1-2, 2017, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov announced following the talks that the current phase of negotiations could be regarded as the beginning of the final stage since most articles, or almost 80%, of the draft convention had been agreed (Sputnik, 2017). Indeed, during the meeting chaired by Murat Atadjanov, the Chairman of the State Enterprise for Caspian Sea Issues under the President of Turkmenistan, the delegations focused on bringing together the positions of their states on uncoordinated provisions of the draft convention. The meeting concluded with an agreement on a number of key points of the document. However, despite the fact that the parties positively assessed the results of the talks, the long-awaited convention is still forthcoming.

    On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the Caspian dialogue is not limited to the SWG or Caspian Summit formats. In fact, since the Caspian Five experience difficulties in finalizing the text of the draft convention, the parties launched consultations of authorized representatives of the Caspian littoral states in parallel with the SWG talks. Under this format, the parties re-energized the process of further improvement of a new five-party legal base of the Caspian Sea legal regime. To date, the parties have already signed following five-party agreements prepared through the efforts of their authorized representatives: Agreement on Security Cooperation on the Caspian Sea (2010 Baku Summit); Agreement on the Conservation and Rational Use of Marine Biological Resources, Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Prevention and Liquidation of Emergencies, and Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Hydrometeorology of the Caspian Sea (2014 Astrakhan Summit). Currently, a package of new five-party legal documents is being prepared. The Turkmen side actively contributed to finalizing the text of the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation in the Caspian Sea region[3], and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Transport on the Caspian Sea[4] developed in accordance with the proposals of President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov (Turkmenistan Today, 2017). All the meetings to discuss the mentioned agreements were held under the chairmanship of the Turkmen side in Ashgabat. For instance, the representatives of the authorized bodies of the Caspian Five held two meetings on trade and economic cooperation agreement on February 1, 2017 and April 24, 2017, while the consultations on the issue of transport agreement took place on November 17, 2016 and May 15, 2017. In addition, two protocols to the agreement on security cooperation, namely, the Protocol on Cooperation in Ensuring Safety of Shipping on the Caspian Sea[5] and the Protocol on Cooperation in the Fight against Poaching on the Caspian Sea[6], were discussed in Ashgabat on November 8, 2016, November 17, 2016, February 14, 2017, and March 15, 2017.

    It appears that the documents that are prepared by the authorized representatives would continue to establish a new legal background for the current legal regime in the Caspian Sea. However, as can be seen from the dates, the negotiation process has slowed after May 2017. It can be assumed that the parties no longer had any reason to rush into finalizing new agreements and protocols. This assumption looks quite convincing assuming that after the 49th meeting of SWG it became clear to the parties that the Astana Summit could not be conducted in 2017.

    In fact, there seems to be little chance of progress during the upcoming Caspian consultations if Iran makes no significant changes in its position on the issue of the Caspian basin delimitation, which is still classified as a major obstacle towards achieving five-party consensus over the Caspian Sea division. All the littoral states except Iran de-facto and de-jure recognized that the Caspian Sea basin delimitation should be based on a modified median-line method and there is no chance to divide the Caspian Sea into 5 equal parts, 20% for each littoral state. However, it is important to highlight that without Iran’s approval all the bilateral and trilateral agreements between Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan[7] should be classified as interim measures in the regulation of the legal regime of the Caspian basin. Therefore, without Iran’s support it would be impossible to finalize the process of the Caspian Sea division. As a result, the only way to make the V Caspian Summit happen is to continue attempts to influence Tehran’s position regarding prospects of the Caspian Sea division, otherwise we could witness the indefinite postponement of the Caspian Summit in Astana.


    Daneshvar, F. (2017). Iran: Caspian's legal status - complex technical talks . Retrieved from Accessed on: 01.10.2017

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. (2017). Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks and answers to media questions at a joint news conference following talks with Foreign Minister of Kazakhstan Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Astana, October 6, 2017. Retrieved from Accessed on: 10.10.2017

    Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. (2017). State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s interview with RIA Novosti, October 10, 2017.  Retrieved from Accessed on: 11.10.2017

    Pritchin, S. (2016). BIGTIME PROBLEMS. Russia in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 14 (1), 194-203.

    Sputnik. (2017). Almost 80% of Draft Convention on Legal Status of Caspian Sea Agreed Upon - Baku. Retrieved from Accessed on: 13.10.2017

    Turkmenistan Today. (2017). Meeting of the working group on determining the legal status of the Caspian Sea opened. Retrieved from Accessed on: 11.10.2017

    [1] During the Astrakhan Summit, the leaders of the littoral states agreed to recognize 15-nautical mile territorial and sovereign waters adjacent to each country’s shoreline and the exclusive right for each country to fish an additional 10 nautical miles beyond the 15-mile zone. Actually, Kazakhstan was the one who suggested to establish territorial sea, fishing zone and common water area in the Caspian Sea.

    [2] Following the meeting, Foreign Ministers have identified the following issues requiring further negotiations: the determination of the methods of delimitation of the seabed, construction of maritime communications under the Caspian Sea including pipelines, civil and military navigation and transshipment.

    [3] The Agreement focuses on establishment of legal and organizational mechanisms and institutions that should be formed in order to bring economic cooperation in the region to a qualitatively new level providing the governmental structures and business circles of the littoral states with an effective dialogue platform.

    [4] The document is to be aimed at enhancing cargo and passenger transport, improving shipping services, and developing modern transport and logistics infrastructure including seaports.

    [5] Protocol aimed to ensure the navigation safety in the region, focusing on protecting life and health of crewmembers and passengers, as well as ensuring the safety of carriers and cargo. The Protocol should unify regional norms and standards for the construction of ships, harmonize course of actions in order to deal with accident investigations and rescue operations, standardize requirements for the crew qualification, etc.

    [6] The Protocol covers a wide range of issues such as combating the illegal extraction of biological resources (poaching), fight against terrorism, organized crime, arms and drugs trafficking, smuggling, human trafficking and illegal immigration.

    [7] On July 6, 1998, Kazakhstan and Russia concluded the Agreement on delimitation of the bottom of the northern part of the Caspian Sea for realize sovereign rights on using of subsoil. The two sides also inked two protocols to this agreement on May 13, 2002 and on October 15, 2015. Moreover, on November 29, 2001 the Agreement between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan on delimitation of the bottom of the Caspian Sea was signed. The parties also inked the protocol to it on February 27, 2003. The Agreement between Azerbaijan and Russia about differentiation of adjacent sites of the bottom of the Caspian Sea was inked on September 23, 2002. Finally, on May 14, 2003, the Agreement on the point of the joint of lines of differentiation of adjacent sites of the bottom of the Caspian Sea between Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Russia was concluded. On December 2, 2014, the Agreement between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on the delimitation of the bottom of the Caspian Sea was signed. (Pritchin, 2016)

    Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute's editorial policy.

    Tags: Kazakhstan, Caspian Summit, International Relations


  • Senior Research fellow

    Lidiya Parkhomchik

    Lydiya Parkhomchik (nee Timofeyenko) was born on February 9, 1984 in Zelenodolsk city, located at the territory of the Republic of Tatarstan (Russia). Since 1986 she became resident of the Republic of Kazakhstan.