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What is the meaning of new Moscow Stance on Caspian Sea?

By Bahman Aghai Diba, PhD International Law of the Sea

Caspian Sea (source: Google Earth)

According to a reports posted recently in many places in the wake of the 4th Caspian Summit which is going to be held in Astrakhan of Russia, a Russian Foreign Ministry official, Igor Bratchikov, has told reporters in Moscow on September 22, 2014 that the Kremlin “supports the conditions of the 1921 Soviet-Iranian treaty under which the Caspian is considered a lake and is divided into two sectors.”

Russia’s position regarding the legal regime of the Caspian Sea has been division of the Caspian Seabed on the basis of a modified median line (MML) and leaving the Caspian waters as common for navigation of all littoral states. According to the MML, Russia, and Azerbaijan get almost twenty percent (each of them), Kazakhstan gets 30 percent, Turkmenistan gets almost 17 percent and Iran gets almost 13 percent of the Caspian Sea-bed. The Russians have succeeded to convince Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan in this field and they already have agreements on the basis of the Russian proposal for delimitation of the Seabed of the Caspian between these three countries in the northern part of the Caspian Sea. Iran, along with the on and off support of Turkmenistan, has not agreed with the Russian formula and even considers the agreements of Russia with those countries on the Caspian seabed as null and void. Iran wants the Caspian to be divided on the basis of equity (almost twenty per cent for each of the five littoral counties) and these sectors include, in Iran’s view, both seabed and waters of the Caspian Sea.

There is no doubt that pending determination of a new regime for the Caspian Sea, the old regime based on the 1921 and 1940 treaties of Iran and Russia is valid. However, the government of Iran has declared articles 5 and 6 of the 1921 treaty as null and void in 1979. The reason given by the Iranian side is that those articles were related to the Russians who had fled from Russia after the October Revolution in that county and later this issue has lost its relevance. Those articles gave a kind of rights to the Russian government to intervene in Iran if the Iranian government fails to stop the threat towards the Russian government from the sources (Russian anti-revolutionary elements called the White Russians) stationed in Iran. The Russian government has never officially confirmed the Iranian position about annulations of those articles from the 1921 treaty.

On the basis of the 1921 Treaty of friendship between Iran and the USSR, the rights denied to Iran according to the 1828 Turkamanchi Treaty regarding the navigation in the Caspian Sea were reestablished. According to the Article 11 of the 1921 Treaty, both sides should equally share the privileges of navigation in all parts of the Caspian Sea and there was no restraint placed upon their nationals’ vessels. The text of this article is very clear: ‘Taking into consideration that according to principles stated in the article 8 of this treaty, the Feb.10, 1828 Turkamanchi treaty , in which the article 8 denied Iran her rights of navigation in the Caspian sea , is abrogated ; therefore the high contracting parties agree that in pursuit of the conclusion of this treaty , both of them will enjoy equal rights of navigation , under their own flags, in the Caspian sea’.

Caspian Sea Countries: Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Iran, Russia, Turkmenistan

Review of the new stance

On the basis of the above mentioned quoting from the new Russian stance, it is possible to say:

  1. The Caspian Sea is a lake from geographical point of view and its status as a lake is not based on any treaty including the 921 treaty.
  2. The 1921 treaty does not divide the Caspian Sea into two parts. It declares the entire Caspian Sea free for navigation of Iran and Russia as the only littoral states of that time. Later, the 1940 Treaty along with its attached documents, on the basis of the 1921 treaty declares the Caspian Sea as the sea of Iran and Russia.
  3. The Russian call for dividing the Caspian into two parts under present conditions means to divide the Caspian Sea into the northern and southern Caspian Sea.( there is no such thing in the 1921 treaty). the northern part will be Russia, Kazakhstan and parts of Azerbaijan ( that have no problem with using the Russian proposal of MML) and the southern part will be Iran and Turkmenistan and parts of Azerbaijan Republic that may continue to quarrel with each other about what standards they want to apply to the delimitation of their Caspian boundaries.
  4. The apparently new Russian stance has no effect on their positions based on the MML.
  5. the emphasize of Russians on the 1921 Treaty at present juncture highlights parts of the treaty that limits the rights of navigation in the Caspian to the h two ( and naturally to the current 5 countries), and therefore calls for restrictions the access of non-littoral countries to the Caspian Sea. At the present pace of increasing tensions between Russia and Western countries this makes more sense. In fact, this is the subject that the Russians are going to work seriously on it in the upcoming summit and afterwards.
  6. Referring to the 1921 treaty without making any distinction about any the parts of the treaty that have been declared as null and void (unilaterally) by Iran is sending a message to Iran.





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