On August 12, 2018, in Aktau, during the Fifth Caspian Summit, the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia and Turkmenistan signed the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.
The document is a fundamental international treaty that defines and regulates the rights and obligations of the parties in respect of the Caspian Sea, including its waters, seabed, subsoil, natural resources and airspace.
The Convention specifies issues related to the delimitation of national zones; jurisdictions and sovereignty; exercise of rights to subsoil exploitation; transit and transportation; laying submarine pipelines and cables; protection of environment and biological resources of the Caspian Sea. Convention pays special attention to security issues in terms of countering modern threats and challenges, preventing and eliminating emergency situations, and military activities of the Caspian states.
The Convention provides for the delimitation of the marine area into zones with different legal regimes.
The parties establish the breadth of their territorial waters up to a limit not exceeding 15 nautical miles, while their external borders acquire the state status. 10 nautical miles-wide fishery zones are adjacent to the territorial waters, where each state has the exclusive right to harvest aquatic biological resources.
In order to preserve a unique population of biological resources, fishery throughout the entire water area is carried out based on agreed national quotas.
Outside the fishery zones, the parties preserve a common water area. Outside the maritime state borders, ships flying the flags of coastal countries enjoy freedom of navigation.
The agreement on the freedom of transit to other seas and the Ocean by all means of transport is also quite important.
The states with adjacent and opposite coasts delimit the seabed and subsoil into sectors by agreement with due regard to the generally recognized principles and norms of international law, to enable those states to exercise their sovereign rights to the subsoil exploitation and other legitimate economic activities related to the development of resources of the seabed and subsoil.
It is also possible to lay trunk submarine pipelines and cables on the bed of the Caspian Sea, on the condition that the projects comply with environmental requirements.
The parties protect and preserve the ecological system of the Caspian Sea and all its elements. Any activity at sea must not be detrimental to the marine environment and biological diversity.
To ensure effective implementation of the Convention, the states establish a special mechanism of regular five-party consultations - High-Level Working Group on the Caspian Sea at the level of deputy foreign ministers/plenipotentiaries of the coastal states.
At present, the parties are conducting domestic procedures for ratifying the Convention, which will enter into force on the date of the receipt by the Depositary of the Convention (Republic of Kazakhstan) of the fifth instrument of ratification.
The determination of the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the establishment of stable and friendly relations between the coastal states, based on generally recognized principles and norms of international law, has been one of the strategic objectives of the foreign policy of the Republic of Kazakhstan since independence.
Negotiations to determine the legal status of the Caspian Sea were launched in 1992 in order to resolve issues of cooperation at sea among the five Caspian states.
From 1992 to 1996 the parties held five meetings of deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian states, three expert meetings, as well as a number of bilateral and trilateral meetings, where they discussed specific issues related to the Caspian Sea.
As a result of the Meeting of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Coastal States, held in Ashgabat in November 1996, the parties established an Ad Hoc Working Group to develop the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea at the level of deputy foreign ministers of the Caspian states.
The parties held the meetings alternately in the territory of each Caspian state. They organized a total of 52 meetings of the Ad Hoc Working Group (the final meeting held on August 10, 2018 in Aktau).
In order to bring the parties' positions closer, the Caspian states held consultations on a regular basis in various formats.
As part of the negotiation process, Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Caspian states held seven meetings (11-12 November 1996 in Ashgabat, 6 April 2004 in Baku, 20 June 2007 in Tehran, 22 April 2014 in Moscow, 12-13 July 2016 in Astana, 4-5 December 2017 in Moscow, 11 August 2018 in Aktau).
Before the Summit in Aktau, the Caspian states held four Summits (23-24 April 2002 in Ashgabat, 16 October 2007 in Tehran, 18 November 2010 in Baku and 29 September 2014 in Astrakhan).
The First Caspian Summit in 2002 in Ashgabat laid the foundation for other summits.
At the Second Caspian Summit, the Republic of Azerbaijan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Russian Federation and Turkmenistan signed the Declaration, which politically consolidated the existing arrangements on the legal status of the Caspian Sea, security and stability at sea, as well as the position of the Caspian states on certain aspects of international relations.
At the Third Caspian Summit, the Presidents signed a Joint Statement and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea.
In the Joint Statement, the leaders of the Caspian states reaffirmed their commitment to the positions reflected in the Declaration of the Second Summit, and urged to agree on the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.
The Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security, being a framework document, created a legal basis for the interaction of the coastal states in ensuring security and combating unlawful activities in the Caspian Sea, identifying the main areas and forms of cooperation. The specific mechanisms of such interaction, according to the common understanding of the parties, are enshrined in the relevant protocols to this Agreement.
In addition, in the capital of Azerbaijan, the heads of the coastal states reached a basic agreement on the width of the national zone, including the water area under the sovereignty of a coastal state.
At the Baku meeting, the parties also reached an agreement on developing a mechanism to introduce a moratorium on sturgeon fishing in the Caspian Sea (a corresponding protocol was adopted at the level of heads of state).
At the Fourth Caspian Summit, the Presidents signed a Joint Statement enshrining a wide list of principles guiding the activities of the coastal states at sea. These principles have been incorporated into the draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.
At the Fourth Caspian Summit, the parties also signed the Agreement on Conservation and Rational Use of the Aquatic Biological Resources of the Caspian Sea, the Agreement on Cooperation in Emergency Prevention and Response in the Caspian Sea and the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Hydrometeorology of the Caspian Sea.
In addition to the above documents, the Republic of Kazakhstan has signed the following international agreements relating to the Caspian Sea:
- Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation on Delimitation of the Seabed of the Northern Part of the Caspian Sea for the Purposes of Exercising Sovereign Rights to the Subsoil Exploitation as of July 6, 1998, and the four Protocols thereto;
- Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Azerbaijan on Delimitation of the Seabed of the Caspian Sea between the Republic of Kazakhstan and the Republic of Azerbaijan as of November 29, 2001, and the Protocol thereto;
- Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation on the Point of Junction of the Lines of Delimitation of Adjacent Sections of the Seabed of the Caspian Sea of May 14, 2003;
- Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea as of November 4, 2003, and the four Protocols thereto;
- Agreement between the Republic of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan on Delimitation of the Seabed of the Caspian Sea between the Republic of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as of December 2, 2014;
- Aktau agreements between the governments of the Caspian states on cooperation in the field of transport, on trade and economic cooperation, on prevention of incidents in the Caspian Sea, as well as protocols on cooperation in combating terrorism, in combating organized crime, on cooperation and interaction among border authorities to the Agreement on Cooperation in the Field of Security in the Caspian Sea of November 18, 2010.