Sea of contention: why Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran can't divide the Caspian sea
Material posted: Publication date: 25-07-2016
What resources has the Caspian sea and why coastal States are unable to agree on its status find out at TASS.

In Soviet times the Caspian sea was actually the inland waters of the Soviet Union - only 13.8% belonged to Iran. After the Soviet collapse in 1991 the number of littoral States increased to five - Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. In this context there is a need to adopt a new agreement on the legal status of the Caspian sea.

Why for about 20 years the parties are unable to agree at TASS.

What are the peculiarities of the legal status of the Caspian sea?

  • Being a landlocked pond with no natural outlet to the World ocean, the Caspian sea is not subject to international conventions on Maritime law.
  • During Soviet times, the development of the Caspian sea was regulated by Soviet-Iranian treaties of February 26, 1921 and March 25, 1940, They provide freedom of navigation throughout the waters of the seas and freedom of fishing (the principle of "common water"), with the exception of the ten-mile national fishing zones, but do not regulate the issues of subsoil use, military activities and transit through the Caspian sea, protection of the natural environment.
  • The legal regime established by the Soviet-Iranian treaties remained in force pending a new agreement on the status of the Caspian sea.

The interests of countries intersect in the Caspian sea?

1. On the shoreline of the Caspian sea is located five States:

  • in the North-West and West – Russia (Astrakhan oblast, Dagestan and Kalmykia; the coastline 695 km);
  • in the East and North-East Kazakhstan (2320 km);
  • in the South-East, Turkmenistan (1200 km);
  • in the South-West – Azerbaijan (955 km);
  • in the South – Iran (724 km);

2. The largest oil and gas fields of the region – Kazakhstan Tengiz, Karachaganak, Kashagan, etc. – develop international consortia and foreign companies from USA,Italy, France, Netherlands, UK, etc.

What prevents the parties to reach agreement?

  • A major barrier to the signing of the Convention on the Caspian sea status is the difference of the positions of the parties on the delimitation of the bottom of the reservoir, as well as disputes about territorial jurisdiction of large hydrocarbon deposits offshore.
  • Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan propose to delimit the Caspian sea along the median line (a line every point of which is equidistant from the respective nearest points on the coasts of these States).
  • Iran insists on creating five equal sectors (20%).
  • Russia supports the delineation of mineral resources and the Caspian sea, but against the division of its waters as this would require a radical revision of the prevailing over the past 70 years mode of economic use of water.
  • In addition, Iran opposes bilateral agreements.

As the parties attempt to resolve the dispute?

  • Among the Caspian littoral States agreed on the need for a Convention on the legal status of the sea.
  • Work related to signing it, there is a special working group for about 20 years.
  • The question of the status of the Caspian sea remains a key topic of discussion at the summits of the Caspian littoral States. All in all there were four summits.
  • It is expected that the document will present on the V Caspian summit in Astana this year.

What has been done prior to the signing of the Convention?

  • Because to resolve all disagreements in the format of "five" did not work, some Caspian littoral States began to negotiate in bilateral and trilateral formats.
  • In particular, resolved the disputed issues between Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan with the signing in 1998 and 2001 documents on the delimitation of the seabed and subsoil of the Caspian sea (water surface remains in common use). The distinction is based on the agreement of the parties on the method of modified median line. In 2003, Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan signed an Agreement on point of intersection of the lines of delimitation of adjacent sections of the Caspian sea.
  • In 2014, the inter-state agreement on delineation of bottom of Caspian sea was signed between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan.
  • Similar arrangements between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan could not be reached.


The Caspian sea is the Earth's largest landlocked water body, which is referred as to the lakes (closed lake) and the seas (because of the very large sizes). Located on the Eurasian continent. Its length from North to South is approximately 1,200 km, width from West to East - from 195 to 435 km.

Shoreline length is estimated at about 6500 - 6700 km, with the Islands - up to 7000 km. Area is about 371 thousand square km, maximum depth - 1025 m. the Caspian sea flows over 130 rivers, of which the largest is the Volga, Ural, Terek, Sulak, Samur. The natural resources of the sea include over 500 species of plants and 854 fish species, of which about 30 have commercial importance: Beluga, stellate sturgeon, sterlet, pike-perch, sturgeon (90% of world sturgeon reserves), etc.

Forecasted hydrocarbon resources of the Caspian sea (oil and gas) are estimated at 18 billion tonnes of oil equivalent, with proven reserves of 4 billion tons. This is the second place in terms of oil and gas reserves after the Persian Gulf.

Practically the only water through the exit of ships of the Caspian countries from the Caspian sea to the World ocean is the sea of Azov via the Volga-don canal).



Tags: Caspian Sea