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Kazakhs, Turkmen Divide Caspian Spoils Despite Demarcation Doubts

The Caspian Sea's rich oil and gas reserves are a potential source of tension between its five littoral states. (file photos)

The Caspian Sea's rich oil and gas reserves are a potential source of tension between its five littoral states. (file photos)

Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan have agreed to their maritime border in the Caspian Sea despite the continued lack of agreement on the legal status of the Caspian among its five littoral states.

Both Kazakh and Turkmen media reported on May 26 that Turkmenistan's parliament ratified an agreement with Kazakhstan that dated back to November 7.

A report on May 27 confirmed that the Kazakh parliament had similarly ratified the deal.

Media in both countries suggest the agreement recognizes the sovereign rights of each country in their sectors of the Caspian, including the right to develop and use the resources found within their national sectors.

The interesting thing about this agreement is that it comes as the five littoral states -- which also include Azerbaijan, Iran, and Russia -- continue to debate whether the Caspian should be considered a sea or a lake.

If it is the latter, then national sectors would be established stretching about 16 kilometers from the shoreline of each country, within which each country would have exclusive rights to develop its portion. The remainder would be the common property of the five littoral states and could only be developed by mutual consent.

Iran in particular has been favoring "lake" status because if the Caspian is considered a sea, national sectors would be drawn that would give Iran just 13 percent along the southern shore, or the least valuable section of the Caspian based on known reserves.

The Kazakh-Turkmen agreement also comes as Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and the European Union have been discussing construction of a Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) that would bring Turkmen gas across the bottom of the Caspian to Azerbaijan, where it would be pumped into pipelines leading to Turkey and, possibly, on to Europe.

The Kazakh-Turkmen maritime demarcation deal strengthens Turkmenistan's claim on rights to use its sector for whatever purposes it wishes -- building a pipeline, for example -- without consulting the other littoral states. Turkmen and Azerbaijani authorities have already said if both countries agree to build such a pipeline there is no need to seek approval from the other three coastal states.

Russia has raised objections to the TCP project, citing the unresolved matter of the Caspian's legal status and the potential environmental consequences of the TCP.

Some feel Russia's objections are motivated more by the potential loss of revenue from Russia's gas sales to Europe than by any concerns about the environment.

The Khabar news website noted it is not the first such agreement that Kazakhstan has signed with a Caspian littoral state and noted a 2002 agreement with Russia that divided the Caspian zone between Russia and Kazakhstan and allowed for the joint development of hydrocarbon resources in the Kurmangazy, Tsentralnaya, and Khvalynskoye fields that are located along the common maritime border their agreement established.

-- Bruce Pannier with contributions by RFE/RL's Kazakh and Turkmen services

About This Blog

Qishloq Ovozi is a blog by RFE/RL Central Asia specialist Bruce Pannier that aims to look at the events that are shaping Central Asia and its respective countries, connect some of the dots to shed light on why those processes are occurring, and identify the agents of change. Content will draw on the extensive knowledge and contacts of RFE/RL's Central Asian services but also allow scholars in the West, particularly younger scholars who will be tomorrow’s experts on the region, opportunities to share their views on the evolving situation at this Eurasian crossroad. The name means "Village Voice" in Uzbek. But don't be fooled, Qishloq Ovozi is about all of Central Asia.