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Contested Waters: Implications of the 2018 Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea and the Future of the Trans-Caspian Pipeline

The dispute between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan over the delimitation of the Caspian Sea has been one of the focal points of relations between the two states and has had negative spillover effects for the region. The conflict prolonged the process of determining a new status for the sea, as the parties failed to build mutually beneficial bilateral relations, and the implementation of regionally important transportation projects such as the Trans-Caspian Pipeline (TCP) have been delayed. However, the signing of a new Convention on the status of the Caspian Sea in 2018 in Aktau, was met with optimism for the delimitation of the seabed and the construction of the TCP. The present research aims to find out whether the new Convention of 2018 on the status of the Caspian Sea resolved the long-standing dispute between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and to assess the potential of implementing the TCP under the new conditions.

Contested Waters Implications of the 2018 Convention on the Legal
Republic of Azerbaijan and its neighboring countries. Shutterstock
 

 

Introduction

 

Controversy among the five littoral states over the legal regime of the Caspian Sea began with the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991. Until that time, the Caspian was considered a “common Sea” between Iran and the Soviet Union. However, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the number of littoral states increased from two to five, which in turn altered the geopolitical situation of the Sea. The birth of the new nation-states on the coast of the Sea transformed the region into a conflict area and the legal regime of the Sea became one of the contentious disputes among the bordering countries. The existence of offshore hydrocarbon resources in the Caspian and its location on a geopolitically significant transport route turned it into one of the main priority issues in the foreign policies of the littoral states and increased the need to find a legal solution, the absence of which prevented the disputing states from investigating the vast natural resources of the Sea. Therefore, since 1990, all five coastal states of the Sea have been more or less involved in the dispute over the ownership of the oil fields. The most adamant dispute has been between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

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