The leaders of all five littoral states attended the fourth Caspian Sea summit in the Russian city of Astrakhan yesterday. The latest meeting was more significant than previous summits held in Turkmenistan in 2002, Iran in 2007 and Azerbaijan in 2010, as the parties reached important agreements on some issues. Yet, others continue to divide them, with implications that reach far beyond the Caspian.
At yesterday’s summit, the five littoral state presidents—Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Turkmenistan’s Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov, Azerbaijan’s Ilham Aliyev, Iran’s Hassan Rouhani and Kazakhstan’s Nursultan Nazarbayev—renewed their commitment to keeping non-Caspian countries from establishing a military presence on the sea. Regarding their own armed forces, the sides agreed to ensure “a stable balance of arms in the Caspian Sea,” while calling for limiting military construction to “reasonable sufficiency, taking into account the interests of all parties without harming the security of each other.”
They also reached a new agreement on two types of maritime zones on the sea, one granting sovereignty over the area out to 15 nautical miles beyond littoral states’ shores, and another delimiting exclusive fishing rights up to 25 nautical miles from their coasts. Their discussions also covered taxation, customs, joint rescue missions and other issues. Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev proposed that the parties consider establishing a free trade zone and eventually an international organization, which would go beyond these periodic leadership meetings. Perhaps most importantly, they agreed in principle that the five littoral states would jointly develop the waters that extend beyond their fishing zones. Putin said he was hopeful that the littoral states could negotiate a convention resolving the legal status of the Caspian Sea before they met at their next summit in Kazakhstan at a date to be determined.