The 36th Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea commenced on Wednesday. The annual meeting, which convened in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, has been attended by delegations from Azerbaijan, Russia, Iran and Kazakhstan, as well the host country. Debates have traditionally revolved around the legal rights to the strategically crucial Caspian, though discussions this year are expected to be especially substantive, given to recent discoveries of gas and oil in the body of water, and the expected economic benefits thereof.
In addition to the status of oil and gas reserves in the Caspian, other issues that are expected to figure prominently in the convention’s agenda include the preservation of the “unique natural reservoir, rational development of its resources, and “firmly cementing the status of the Caspian Sea as a sea of peace and harmony.” Views are expected to be exchanged regarding mutually acceptable solutions on the legal status of the Caspian, as all parties work to reach a consensus on how strategically important bodies of water such as the Caspian will be treated.
Previous agreements regarding the Caspian have been brokered, though only on limited terms. In 1998 Russia and Kazakhstan signed demarcation agreements regarding the northeastern part of the Caspian whereas Azeri and Kazakh officials came to terms on delimitation agreements in 2001 and 2008. The conclusion of the convention is set for the coming week, and is expected to produce further compromises that leave clear the legal status of the Caspian and set the stage for cooperation on Turkmen energy projects, including future pipeline routes that will connect the region with Europe.
- The United Nations reports on nutritional deficits in some Central Asian nations. The report, which centers not only on Central Asia, but on parts of Europe as well, draws attention to vitamin and mineral deficiencies as contributing factors to stunted growth in Central Asian populaces. The report shifts the focus away from caloric intake as the primary metric by which nutritional deficiency is measured, and shifts it focus to dietary concerns presented by poor-quality food items. Though specific country names were not listed, the UN did indicate that every country in the region besides Tajikistan continues to import food items in order to cover the dietary needs of their citizenry.
- Russia has announced the withdrawal of a battalion of its troops from the Ukrainian border. The battalion, which represented only a small portion of the large-scale Russian military buildup near Ukraine, did little to assuage the fears of Ukrainian leaders that the taking of Crimea was only the first step in a larger, more thorough Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- The World Bank has advised that more than 2.5 trillion U.S. Dollars need to be spent by Central and South Asian governments and institutions in order to meet infrastructure needs. The report condemns existing systems of transportation and energy provision, stating that many in the region “remain unconnected” to reliable infrastructure, and encouraged regional governments to increase spending in order to foment economic growth and connect their countries’ trade and economic centers.
- Uzbekistan has ordered an immediate stoppage to all flights leaving Tashkent destined for Kiev. The Uzbek government cited force majeure as the chief motivating factor, stating the new Ukrainian government had not yet authorized further flights between the two countries. The timing of the cancellation, however, suggests a political motive, and could have been influenced by the rapid souring of relations between Ukraine and Russia, which still holds a significant amount of influence with the Uzbek elite.