On June 29 and July 19, Putin visited two Caspian countries, Turkmenistan and Iran, respectively. The main purpose was to participate in the summit of the leaders of the Caspian countries and the Astana talks on the Syrian issue.
Putin’s visit, the strengthening of the US Central Asia strategy, the Caspian Summit reaffirmed the communiqué on prohibiting the activities of foreign countries’ forces in the Caspian region, and the Russian court’s order to close the “lifeline” of Kazakhstan’s oil exports (suspending the activities of the Caspian Pipeline Union’s oil pipeline for 30 days), Once again, the world’s attention is directed to the Caspian Sea, especially the energy development of the Caspian Sea.
The world’s energy treasure house
Some scholars have predicted: “Whoever controls the strategic resources of the Caspian Sea will dominate the international energy market in the 21st century.
” The Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea are connected. Due to the movement of the earth’s crust, it has become the largest closed body of saltwater in the world today.
Today there are 5 countries along the Caspian Sea, namely Russia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. It is surrounded by the Caucasus Mountains and the Alborz Mountains on the southwest and south, and the other three sides are open and wide plains with long and narrow waters.
As early as 1847, the first commercial oil well in the Caspian Sea region, Bibi Ebat, began to produce oil, and the Caspian Sea has thus become one of the birthplaces of the modern world oil industry. Before large-scale oil extraction in the Middle East, the Caspian Sea played a pivotal role in the world oil market. At the beginning of the 20th century, the oil in the Caspian Sea accounted for about 30% of the world oil trade.
In the first half of the 20th century, the oil in the Caspian Sea region played a prominent role in both the world oil supply and the economic development of the Soviet Union. After World War II, the oil industry in the Caspian region shrank as the Soviet Union shifted its focus to Siberia, but the foundation remained.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union and entering the 21st century, under the impetus of the strategy of “building a country with oil”, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan vigorously promoted the development and utilization of oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea. The importance of the Caspian Sea in the world’s energy map has become increasingly prominent. After the Middle East and Siberia, it is the third largest oil treasure house in the world, and is known as the “Second Persian Gulf”.
According to estimates by energy experts, the oil reserves of the Caspian Sea account for about 18% of the world’s total oil reserves, and the natural gas reserves account for about 4.3% of the world’s total reserves. According to BP data, among the world’s proven natural gas reserves in 2019, the five countries around the Caspian Sea accounted for about 47% of the world’s proven reserves that year.
In addition to oil and natural gas, the Caspian Sea also has a large number of marine resources and seabed mineral resources, which is worthy of the name of “a cornucopia”.
Legal status of non-lakes and non-seas
Before the 1990s, according to the agreement reached between the Soviet Union and Iran, the Caspian Sea was an inland sea between the two countries, and the two countries had common development rights, and other countries had no right to interfere.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the countries around the Caspian Sea became five, and the calm in the Caspian Sea region was broken. A question that arises from this is whether the Caspian Sea is a sea or a lake, and the status of the lake and sea has become the focus of international debate.
If the Caspian Sea is a sea, according to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the countries along the Caspian Sea can divide the territorial sea. The longer the coastline of a country, the more controllable interests it has, and other countries in the world can also freely pass here; and if The Caspian Sea is a lake, and the countries along the Caspian Sea can share it together, while ships from other countries cannot pass freely.
In order to resolve the issue of the legal status of the Caspian Sea, the five countries around the Caspian Sea have been negotiating and negotiating for more than 20 years. Legal status, that is, neither lake nor sea, but both lake and sea.
Specifically, most of the content and framework model of the “Convention” refer to the “International Convention on the Law of the Sea”, and also distinguish between internal waters, 15-nautical-mile territorial waters, 10-nautical-mile fishing areas, and shared waters, reflecting the nature of the sea.
Gazprom’s gas pipeline project in Siberia on April 6, 2021
On July 13, 2006, Adana, Turkey, the opening ceremony of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline
Before large-scale oil extraction in the Middle East, the Caspian Sea played a pivotal role in the world oil market.
However, the underwater bed soil is divided by the neighboring countries through consultation, and the water surface is shared by the coastal countries. No foreign military forces are allowed to be stationed in the Caspian Sea.
Regarding the construction of oil pipelines, the “Convention” stipulates that the ownership should be resolved through independent consultation, which means that the construction of oil pipelines does not require the unanimous consent of the five countries, thus creating conditions for the laying of the trans-Caspian oil pipelines.
The signing of the “Convention” has strengthened the political mutual trust among the five countries, accelerated the economic cooperation among the five countries, and accelerated the pace of the international development of the resources of the Caspian Sea, which is of great significance in the history of the development of the Caspian Sea.
However, some substantive issues have not been resolved by the Convention. For example, the delimitation of the underwater bed soil has not been fully completed. The relaxation of construction conditions for oil pipelines has led to increasing competition in pipeline construction, and the dispute settlement mechanism is still not clear enough.
Growing “pipeline politics”
With the confirmation of the legal status of the Caspian Sea and the diversification of oil and gas pipeline construction, related games have intensified, sometimes even leading to crises and serious confrontations.
The United States has long regarded the Caspian Sea as its strategic resource location. Therefore, leading oil and gas development in the Caspian Sea and restraining Russia’s dominance in the Caspian Sea region has become the focus of the United States’ strategy.
Related to the United States, the European Union has been trying to diversify its energy market for many years, and the oil and gas resources in the Caspian Sea region are more conducive to the European Union to achieve its goals in terms of geographical conditions.
Since the United States and Europe are trying to wedge into the Caspian Sea, Russia must maintain its dominance in the Caspian Sea by first emphasizing the prohibition of foreign military forces from stationing in the Caspian Sea.
Secondly, Russia is not rich in oil and gas resources on the coast of the Caspian Sea, but it wants to maintain the high dependence of Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan on its oil and gas pipelines as much as possible, so as to maintain a certain weight in the competition with European countries .
Due to the relatively convenient traffic conditions in the Caspian Sea, pipeline construction can be transported to the consumer market from east, west, north and south, and countries have launched fierce competition for pipeline construction.
In order to help Kazakhstan and Afghanistan get rid of their excessive dependence on Russian oil and gas pipelines, the US-led BTC (Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan) pipeline was completed and put into operation in 2005, changing the history of Russia’s monopoly on oil pipelines in the region. ; The SCP (Baku-Tbilisi-Enzorum) pipeline, which was completed and operated in 2007, became the first natural gas pipeline in the region to bypass Russia.
In order to effectively maintain the supply to the European energy market, Russia is also innovating to bypass the construction of oil and gas pipelines in Ukraine. The “Turkey Creek” gas pipeline in the Balkans, etc.
Zajechar, Serbia, January 14, 2020, “Turkey Creek” gas pipeline under construction
After the signing of the “Convention” in 2018, the laying of oil and gas pipelines across the Caspian Sea does not require the unanimous consent of the five countries, which also creates opportunities for Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and Turkey to build pipelines to ensure their own oil and gas exports.
On the issue of regional security in the Caspian Sea, Russia and Iran are deeply affected by sanctions from the United States and other Western countries, and have similar security considerations. However, there is still a subtle temperature difference between the two countries diplomatically. According to experts, “Given that Iran is expected to become the sustenance for Europe and the United States to fill the energy gap, and Putin has a great potential to respond to the Russian-Ukrainian war situation and set up resistance to the Iran nuclear negotiation, Tehran and Moscow are not in the same position.”
However, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are trying to get rid of Russia’s dominance and control and actively seek the support of extraterritorial forces. It is inevitable that foreign investors will control the oil and gas markets of these two countries.
Turkmenistan has always remained neutral, relatively weak, and highly dependent on the Russian economy. However, after the signing of the 2018 Convention, its independent development space has been further expanded.
Due to the relatively convenient traffic conditions in the Caspian Sea, pipeline construction can be transported to the consumer market from east, west, north and south.
In addition to the different development orientations of countries in the region, the influence of extra-regional factors cannot be ignored. The United States’ Central Asia strategy, Turkey’s strategic layout to expand its influence in the Black Sea, Europe’s consideration of seeking diversification of energy supplies, terrorism, regional separatism, and the destabilizing factors of Central Asian countries under the influence of the new crown epidemic, all give the entire region security. brings uncertainty.
As the intersection of Eurasian civilizations, the Caspian Sea is unique in history due to geological changes and the exchange of Eastern and Western civilizations. In the 21st century, the Caspian Sea has once again entered the center of world attention due to its special resource value.
The game of big powers, the competitive development of small countries, the competition between regional powers and world powers, the complexity of pipeline politics, etc., further intensify the resource-centered games and competitions between countries. Although the game is intensifying, most countries insist that the peaceful development of the Caspian Sea and the coordination of resources and environment in the Caspian Sea area are still the best development path at present and in the future, and the prospects for peaceful development of the Caspian Sea are still promising.