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Caspian Summit Fails to Resolve Territorial and Resource Disputes

The leaders of the five littoral states (Iran, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Russia) have failed to determine the Caspian Sea’s status and allocate its resources.    This is the third meeting of leaders from the five countries since 2002 in attempt to divide the perceived vast oil and gas resources, with some estimates of 75 billion barrels of oil and 6.9 trillion cubic meters of gas.  The five littoral states did sign a joint agreement to cooperate on security issues, but the agreement is largely seen as similar to one signed in 2002. 

The failure to divide up the Caspian Sea resources will not stop exploration and potential exploitation of the oil and gas fields.  Jennifer DeLay, editor of “FSU Oil and Gas Monitor,” a weekly publication from Scotland-based News based group, told RFE/RL. “The littoral states, all five of them, have come individually to the same conclusion that they have very little to lose if they treat the sea as if it were already divided up in some fashion. So they have all been active in the Caspian to some degree. All five of them have done at least some exploration work even if they haven't moved on to development and even Iran, which is the slowest to start work in the Caspian began drilling its first exploration well in the southern Caspian earlier this year.”

Division of the Caspian Sea and its resources has largely been unresolved since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan as Caspian littoral states in the 1990s.   The agreement was largely based on agreement to resolve issue among the littoral states and to maintain security in the region.  R

ussia and Iran posses the strongest naval presence of the littoral states in the Caspian Sea and have a mutual disdain for Western influence in the region.

Most  oil and gas from the Caspian Sea is pumped through Russia; however, there are routes through Turkmenistan.    Europe views a potential Caspian Summit agreement as a possible step towards removing its dependence on Russian gas by receiving a greater supply from Turkmenistan. Currently, seven of twenty-seven Euro bloc countries rely on Russia exclusively for natural gas.  However, Turkmenistan has been hoping to come to a resolution for some time and there is still yet to be a resolution. Dependence on Russian gas for Europe is a potential security issue because if Russia chose to turn off the pipelines Europe would be without a major energy source.  With this power Russia can push its position on many European states, including cooperation with NATO and nuclear weapon defense shield issues.

Russia is aware of its position of power tied to the natural gas resources and is unlikely to seek an agreement on the Caspian Sea that does not allow it to maintain its position.  However, if Russia attempts to enforce to strict of line it risks having the other littoral states seek agreements with non-littoral states.   Russian President Dmitry Medvedev stated such sentiments, “If at any moment we relax in our mutual cooperation, there is no doubt that other states will want to interfere with our concerns — states that lack a know-how of or a relationship with the Caspian but whose interest stems from economic interests and political goals.”

The Caspian Summit was also the first time that President Medvedev and Iranian leader, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, have met since a new round of sanctions was placed on Iran.



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