On 12 August 2018, after 20 years of talks, the leaders of the five littoral states to the Caspian Sea – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – finally signed a treaty defining its legal status. The ‘Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea’ has not resolved all the long-standing issues; in fact, the most important one – the delimitation of the seabed – has yet to be agreed. But the treaty still represents an important step for regional security and economic development.
If implemented in good faith, the treaty could facilitate important energy projects, including the long-discussed Trans-Caspian gas pipeline (TCP), which could carry some 30 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Turkmen gas per year across the Caspian seabed to Azerbaijan and then into Europe’s gas pipeline networks.
More broadly, the treaty includes significant compromises on the part of Russia and Iran – the Caspian’s two major powers – who felt compelled to drop some of their red lines in recognition of changing regional geopolitics. The key question now is whether other littoral states can overcome their divisions and take full advantage of the window of opportunity afforded by the treaty.
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