19-20 In February 2019 held a 1 meeting of the High-level Working Group on Caspian Sea issues in Baku. How do you rate the results of the first meeting, and what are your expectations from the second meeting, which will take place in Kazakhstan in April?
As I understand it, this was one of the planned working meetings, apparently not the first and not the last one. Already after the signing of the convention last year it was clear that this was not the final stage, and the parties have announced it. We have a lot of different issues that will be discussed. And, in my opinion, this year there will be a new meeting of the presidents. I rate this as one of the stages of the legalization of the relationship around the convention on all issues related to the Caspian Sea. Somehow they reached something, they agreed to discuss it further. I appreciate this meeting as a certain stage. A normal working regime is already established, which will probably continue. I do not see any epochal event in it. The beginning of a normal workflow. Apparently, such meetings will be periodic, without any kind of world sensations, but simply in the working regime will solve various issues, which, on the one hand, were resolved by the convention, and on the other, were not. They laid the foundations.
What issues have not been resolved between the Caspian littoral states?
The same hydrocarbon deposits, especially the Southern Caspian, between Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan. Caspian gas pipeline. Ecology issues. It seems to me that all this will continue to be discussed. Caspian Sea is alive. What will happen there will react accordingly. All these discussions will involve Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan and, of course, Russia and Kazakhstan.
What about unresolved issues between Russia and Kazakhstan over the Caspian?
By and large, Russia and Kazakhstan have less than any controversial issues in the fields than in the South Caspian countries. On the other hand, Russia and Kazakhstan will also react to negotiations.
Do you think Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan can agree on controversial hydrocarbon deposits?
It seems to me that disputes and discussions will still continue. Of course, Iran is not happy with it, of course, Turkmenistan has its own vision. In Azerbaijan it has already been formed in principle. In particular, the development of Shahdeniz began. Azerbaijan has already begun to develop in the medium term. Disputes will not be finally resolved. But there was more hope and, on the other hand, legal grounds for negotiations. A powerful contract in the format of the convention will be the foundation for the further process. But answering here is clearly difficult. Disputes continue. But they will be more diplomatically restrained. All countries of the Caspian 5 have confirmed their intention to resolve the issue constructively.
If Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan agree on the issues of ownership of the fields, will Russia and Kazakhstan participate in these negotiations?
Of course they will be. The Convention provides grounds for all countries. The same issue of ecology. If the Caspian gas pipeline is laid, then all countries' consent is required in connection with the environmental aspects of security. As for the participation of Russia and Kazakhstan in the negotiation process between Azerbaijan, Iran and Kazakhstan, it will be less so. And so the sectoral approach won. The Convention provides some grounds for the influence of Russia and Kazakhstan, to say something, to adjust its position. But this influence will no longer be so decisive, because the format of bilateral or three-way relations is supposed by convention. It seems to me that all five countries will participate in the process. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Iran will play the main role in settling disputed issues among themselves. The Convention was born in the format of the Pentagonal Negotiations. The parties agreed that all further steps will be discussed jointly. In this case, the possibility of two or three parties is allowed. For example, negotiations are underway between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan. Representatives of Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan, it seems to me, will be present at that. Another question is how important their participation is. As observers, as consultants.
How will the convention affect pipeline projects in the region? For example, the Trans-Caspian pipeline.
The Convention says that if a pipeline is being conducted, then environmental risks should be taken into account and all 5 countries have the right to intervene in the negotiations until all these issues are agreed, then the pipeline will be delayed until then.
The deterrent in this case is only ecological or are there other factors?
This is according to the convention. If outside the convention, there are many other factors: economic, for example. This, on the one hand, is a costly project. On the other hand, it requires economic calculations for the future: how profitable it is, how necessary this gas pipeline for Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, European consumers. For example, I have many doubts that this project is currently relevant for Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan. I feel that both sides are in no hurry with the implementation of this project, because there are a lot of obscure economic moments. Why invest a lot of money and will European consumers buy? And how will China respond to this? This is also not very relevant for Azerbaijan, because it has its own deposits. It turns out that if there is a gas pipeline, then it is already a certain rival for Turkmenistan for Azerbaijan. The project, of course, will continue to be developed, but, it seems to me, while there are a lot of economic uncertainties, risks, unprofitable some moments. I do not think that he will come to life tomorrow.
As you know, China is the largest buyer of Turkmen gas. If Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan agree on the launch of the Trans-Caspian pipeline, how will Beijing react to this?
China, of course, will intervene in all this business. First of all, there is, of course, an agreement between Turkmenistan and China. If there are some problems with the supply of gas to China, then the Celestial will defend its right and its interests. Probably, he will negotiate with Turkmenistan to refuse to implement this gas pipeline. China in the Caspian region already has its interests, it is already present here. Turkmenistan, of course, depends on China. Therefore, the Chinese factor is present.
The same reaction will be in Moscow ...
Yes of course. This is a competitor. Why did the parties manage to come to an agreement? Why was the convention concluded? There will be many contradictions between Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan. In particular, in principle the section. But there was a certain exchange. Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan have come to meet security issues. Russia and Iran have come up against sectoral issues. If in the future there will be something similar, then the parties will pursue their definite kind of benefit. Inferior to something. The Convention is, precisely, a vivid example of what the parties can agree, the parties are ready to compromise. Negotiations around the gas pipeline are possible, which, of course, causes a competitive threat for Russian hydrocarbon exports. But by negotiation, some kind of mutual compromises, exchanges, one can solve this issue too.
Is there a serious reason to worry about security in the Caspian region?
I think there is no big reason for this. This is not such a dangerous region. This is not Afghanistan or Syria. The parties are able to solve problems. There is, of course, the danger of the emergence of terrorist groups. But, it seems to me, by joint efforts this problem is quickly eliminated. Another thing is the intervention of the West, the NATO bloc. This is a danger to Russia and Iran more relevant. And the convention has just shown that Caspian countries will not allow external players here. Although this can not be ruled out too. I would appreciate the status of the Caspian region as a moderate, stable in terms of security with potential threats that now seemingly not so dangerous. I do not see any serious problems, but that does not mean that it can not change. As the latest history shows, everything can change. Whoever of 20 years ago could have thought that a whole "Islamic state" would emerge in the Middle East and a regional war would begin. I do not see any particular threats here, but they potentially exist. We need to react to this, we need to work with it. For this, all Caspian countries have resources.
Interviewed Seymour Mammadov, Azerbaijan, specially for CIACR-South Caucasus