At the end of May, 2015, it became widely known that Astana and Ashgabat signed a draft decree on ratification of the Agreement between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on delimitation of the Caspian Sea. The Mejlis of Turkmenistan reviewed and approved a draft law on ratification of the Agreement on 23rd of May, and the Majilis of Kazakhstan passed the document through the similar procedure on 27th of May. According to the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan E. Idrisov, the draft decree on ratification was signed in the result of delimitation talks between two states, which inked the original Agreement on 7th of November, 2014.
Kazakh and Turkmen delegations started consultations on the Caspian Sea delimitation issue in early 2003 right after Kazakhstan has delimited the northern part of the Caspian Sea basin. The Agreement on the delimitation of adjacent sections of the Caspian Sea between Kazakhstan, Russia and Azerbaijan became the final step towards defining the borders of Kazakh, Russian and Azerbaijan national sectors of the Caspian seabed, within which the littoral states could have exclusive right on the development and use of bottom and subsoil resources. After signing the mentioned treaty, the parties could finally define the junction point of the delimitation lines for the seabed areas showing the absence of any claims against each other regarding the Caspian delimitation issue.
However, starting the delimitation talks in 2003 for Kazakhstan it took longer time than expected to prepare the similar agreement with its southern neighbor. Despite the fact that Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan have never been involved in the territorial disputes over the Caspian Sea, even during the first years after the fall of the Soviet Union and appearance of newly independent Caspian states, the negotiations on the Caspian Sea division was suspended on the initiative of Turkmen side after holding a few rounds of consultations.
Indirect impact on Turkmenistan’s decision to pause the negotiations in that period was caused by the increasing tensions in intergovernmental relations between Ashgabat and Baku caused by the territorial claims to the disputed “Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli” oil and gas field group. Existing difficulties in relations between two states prevented Azerbaijan from taking part in the debates over defining the junction point of the delimitation lines for the seabed sectors of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.
However, after the renewal of delimitation talks in 2013 Astana and Baku made sufficient progress on solving all technical issues. As expected, there was no problem with the identification of the starting point of the demarcation line between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan located onshore. The parties easily agreed to choose the border point №13, specified in Annex №1 in the Treaty between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on delimitation and demarcation of the Kazakh-Turkmen border signed on July 5, 2001, as the starting point of the demarcation line. Furthermore, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan could manage to fulfill the list of geographical coordinates of the turning points that would define the delimitation line over the seabed and subsoil. In fact, at the very moment Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have on hand the finished boundary line scheme of Kazakh and Turkmen sectors in the Caspian Sea. That is why Astana and Ashgabat actualize the necessity to reach an international agreement with Baku, which could finalize further demarcation of national sectors in the Caspian Sea between two littoral countries.
Moreover, the willingness of the parties to complete the delimitation procedure as soon as possible could be seen clearly through the fact that Parliaments of both states have prepared the Agreement for ratification at earliest possible date. On average, it takes 2-3 years to fulfill the ratification procedure, which greatly complicates immediate implementation of signed documents. Nevertheless, in case of Kazakh-Turkmen Agreement, it took only few months to fulfill the process. For instance, at the last meeting of the Mejlis of Turkmenistan held in May,2015, members of Parliament also ratified two additional protocols to the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea (the Protocol for the Protection of the Caspian Sea from pollution by land-based sources and land-based activities and the Protocol on Biological Diversity), which were signed in 2012 and 2014 respectively. In case of Kazakhstan, we can recall the following example, in July, 2014 the Majilis ratified the Agreement on security cooperation in the Caspian Sea, which was signed in 2010. That is why signing and ratifying the Agreement on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea in the short period is an unprecedented event compared with examples mentioned above.
Therefore, to date, Kazakh government has already managed to solve the issue of setting the boundary lines of Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea with all neighboring countries having land and maritime border with Kazakhstan. On the other hand, we should mention that this was the first time for Turkmenistan to sign such kind of international treaty. Actually, for Ashgabat there were no other options except signing this very first Agreement with Astana particularly because of the lack of clear-cut conflicts and claims between two countries.
At the last Caspian Summit held in Astrakhan on September 29, 2014, by making progressive suggestions for increasing economic potential of the Caspian region Astana and Ashgabat became even more closer in their approaches to the further development of the region. In particular, the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev offered to create the Caspian free trade zone and the President of Turkmenistan Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov initiated to develop a draft Agreement on cooperation in the transport sphere in the Caspian Sea. In this framework, it would be possible to create a Caspian Regional Transport and Logistics Center.
Therefore, it should be noted that the negotiations on the legal status of the Caspian Sea basin have entered a new phase. Implying the format of the delimitation talks, which was first developed by Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, became more preferable for Caspian Sea division with Turkmenistan’s engagement. It mean that all members of the “Caspian Five” except Iran have already agreed to use the method of the modified median line. Iranian officials are still emphasizing their desire to divide the Caspian Sea into 5 equal parts, 20% for each littoral state. Nevertheless, there is still a possibility for Tehran to change its position in the direction of softening in the medium-term.
Consequently, one of the possible reasons for softening Iranian approach to the Caspian Sea delimitation is establishing an efficient alliance (Moscow, Astana, Baku and Ashgabat), which would put pressure on Iran during the further talks. However, nowadays it is rather problematic to establish such a union because Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan are still in the process of solving the dispute on the “Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli” oil and gas field group.
Nevertheless, signing the Agreement on the delimitation of the Caspian Sea between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is a positive signal for the Caspian talks, since the countries of the region could make a step closer to finalize the five-sided Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea basin.
Note: The views expressed in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the Institute's editorial policy.