State Secretary and Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin’s interview with the newspaper Kommersant, published on August 9, 2018
Question: What is the significance of the Aktau Summit for Moscow?
Grigory Karasin: This summit will close a symbolic loop beginning in Ashkhabad in 2002, then followed by meetings of five heads of state held on all coasts of the Caspian Sea in Tehran, Baku, Astrakhan, and now back to the eastern coast, in Aktau. The date is also important since coastal countries have been marking August 12 as Caspian Sea Day since 2007.
A very good present has been prepared for the occasion. At long last, after more than 20 years of talks, the draft Convention on the legal status of the Caspian Sea will be submitted to the leaders for review. Once adopted, this comprehensive international treaty will signal the end of a major period in the history of the Caspian region, which started with the dissolution of the USSR, and the dawning of a new, forward-looking era.
Question: Who stands to benefit the most from this convention?
Grigory Karasin: This will be a fundamental instrument regulating the system of interactions in the Caspian Region, and will be equally beneficial for all state parties.
The convention will not only help substantially enhance trust among them alongside security in the Caspian Sea, but will also facilitate economic cooperation, improve the region’s investment appeal and make the five Caspian states more competitive when it comes to carrying out joint projects with a view of boosting development and unleashing the potential of their most advanced industries. We all stand to benefit from a more predictable environment offering lower risks in one of the key regions of Eurasia.
Question: What was the formula that enabled the parties to agree on a draft after 20 years of talks?
Grigory Karasin: The formula is quite simple. It consists of respecting each other’s interests multiplied by responsiveness when dealing with negotiating partners.
Question: This does not sound very realistic.
Grigory Karasin: There is much talk today about the emergence of new rules of play in international relations. These discussions most often focus on conflicts that have already erupted, or spectacular publicity stunts that have no added value for people. At the same time, it is not uncommon for these flashy gestures by those aiming for the headlines to overshadow efforts that are less striking, but of no less importance and requiring tedious efforts by countries and their people to come to compromises on the most challenging matters.
In these many years of diplomatic work we have really succeeded in bringing closer together the positions of five countries – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan, who were so far apart at the outset.
Question: But how was this possible?
Grigory Karasin: Without any dictate or arm-twisting. We were calm and pragmatic when working on a code of conduct in our common water basin in order to make it acceptable for everyone. After all, we are neighbours, and want to live in peace and friendship. These principles are self-evident to any reasonable person, and this is what underpins our cooperation.
Question: I understand that until the convention is signed you cannot share too many details. Nevertheless, is the Caspian viewed as a sea or as a lake in the latest version?
Grigory Karasin: It is neither of the two. The Caspian Sea will have a special legal status, which is due to a series of specific geographical, hydrological and other factors. It is an enclosed inland body of water that has no direct links to the global ocean, so it cannot be viewed as a sea.
At the same time, given its size, water composition and specifically its seabed structure, it cannot be considered a lake either. In this regard, the Caspian Sea is neither covered by the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea nor the principles regulating cross-border lakes, since only its bed can be divided into sectors, while other principles are used to determine sovereignty over superjacent waters.
Question: As far as we know, the draft convention was not entirely clear on seabed delimitation, which is a key controversial issue. Does this mean that the delimitation of natural resources has been left outside of the convention’s scope and will be addressed by state parties separately?
Grigory Karasin: Caspian states have long found ways of settling matters of this kind between neighbours in bilateral or trilateral formats. This is to say that a pentalateral format did not exist. I believe that the agreements signed by Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, as well as those between Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, could serve as a model for the delimitation of the sea’s southern section.
At the same time, the convention clearly stipulates that this delimitation only refers to subsoil natural resources, and creates an obligation for the parties to hold relevant talks based on international law. After delimitation, coastal states obtain full jurisdiction over the subsoil resources in their part of the seabed. However, the legal status of superjacent waters is different, as I have already said.
Question: Russia is the most active country when it comes to deploying its military in the Caspian Region. To what extent does the draft convention take into consideration Moscow’s interests in this area, specifically regarding the movement of Navy ships and holding naval exercises in the Caspian Sea?
Grigory Karasin: I cannot agree that Russia shows more activity in this area compared to other countries. All our partners within the Caspian Region are proactive when it comes to developing their navy. In the convention, we agree to clearly set out the common principles to this effect.
As for Russia’s interests, I can tell you that they are fully taken in consideration. The regime created by the convention guarantees the freedom to develop the Russian Navy and enables its ships to use the common waters. The instrument also stipulates safe navigation rules for the coastal zone and in places of intense economic activity.
The fact that security within the Caspian is the exclusive prerogative of the Caspian states is also set forth in the protocols to the 2010 Agreement on Security Cooperation in the Caspian Sea to be signed at the Aktau Summit. These are the protocols on combining efforts to fight international terrorism and organised crime, as well as on stepping up cooperation among coastal guard services of the five countries.
Question: Will the Aktau summit be the last one?
Grigory Karasin: Not at all. There is a collective understanding that not only do we have to keep up the tempo and not decrease it, but vice versa we have to accelerate it.
It took us all these years to work out just nine instruments creating binding obligations for five countries, while in Aktau as many as six new intergovernmental agreements will be signed on top of a major international treaty.
We expect the convention to reinforce the Caspian format. It is high time that we look into creating a permanent framework for consultations.
Question: What do you really mean here? Are you about to establish a new regional structure?
Grigory Karasin: I think that there will be interesting proposals made at the summit. Let us wait until Sunday and see.