Oil and Geopolitics in the Caspian Sea Region

By Michael P. Croissant; Bülent Aras | Go to book overview

9

Turkmenistan: Oil, Gas, and Caspian Politics

Vladimir Mesamed

In Turkmenistan, political attitudes about the resources of the Caspian Sea and the sea's legal regime began to form as a result of the collapse of the USSR and the establishment of national independence in December 1991. During the years of Soviet rule, the Caspian was not of crucial significance to Turkmenistan as a source of oil extraction, unlike Azerbaijan, from which the bulk of Soviet oil exploration and production efforts in the Caspian were undertaken. 1 Although a 1970 Soviet government decision carried out division of the Caspian into republican sectors, including a Turkmenistan! sector, such division took on a symbolic rather than realistic character and had no practical significance for the economic life of the post-Soviet republics.

Yet, the Caspian factor became for Turkmenistan the basis for regional integration when Iran proposed in 1992—for purely geopolitical reasons—the idea of territorial-economic union of the five Caspian littoral states—Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakstan, Russia, and Turkmenistan. The convention of the Organization for Cooperation Among Caspian States envisaged the development of relations between neighbors on a common sea, including tourism, shipping links, joint use of Caspian resources, and adoption of measures promoting ecological security. In Turkmenistan, the idea of creating such an organization was assessed immediately from a geopolitical perspective; that is, as a body playing a kind of political role ensuring stability in the region. Already at that time it was clear that “without common efforts not one of the states can preserve the Caspian zone or efficiently use the Caspian's resources.” 2 Atthesame time, Turkmenistan would not give serious consideration to defining the Caspian's status, for the priority of developing gas reserves as opposed to oil substantially reduced the sharpness of this problem. For the time being, the leader of the country, Saparmurad Niyazov, regards as important the observance of already existing agreements based mainly on the principle of compromise; he has made repeated solemn statements on the need to turn the Caspian into a peaceful world region and

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