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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Claims Share in All Caspian Resources

A Foreign Ministry spokesman said Tuesday that Russia took the view that all resources of the Caspian Sea were owned jointly by its littoral states, adding a new dimension to the conflict with Azerbaijan over a multinational oil deal worth $7 billion dollars.

Spokesman Grigory Karasin was commenting on an article in Tuesday's Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which cited a Foreign Ministry legal expert as saying that, because the Caspian Sea is an inland sea, "all oil reserves of that sea are the property of all Caspian littoral states."

"That reflects the government's position," Karasin said, referring to the deal Azerbaijan signed last month with a consortium of Western oil companies and Russia's LUKoil.

Russian officials had earlier only demanded a say in approving the deal, citing concern over its environmental impact, and Monday added that the contract breached two agreements between the Soviet Union and Iran.

Karasin's remarks coincided with the start of two days of talks between Russia and the four other countries bordering the Caspian Sea on the management and exploitation of its resources. Attending the talks are Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Albert Chernyshev and his counterparts from Iran, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan, as well as the Kazakh ambassador to Russia.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta quoted Azeri Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov as dismissing Russia's claim to the oil reserves.

His deputy, Araz Azimov, on Tuesday said the contract "was signed on the basis of Azerbaijan's sovereignty" and denied that the contract breached any preceding treaties.

Russia apparently also failed in an attempt to get Iran to support Moscow's stance over the Caspian oil deal. On Monday, Chernyshev had talks with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mahmood Vaezi, who was in Moscow for the conference.

But on Tuesday Vaezi said his country was ready to work with Azerbaijan if it wanted to construct a pipeline through Iran and Turkey to Western Europe.

Chernyshev told reporters that the Azeri oil deal was not on the agenda for the conference, which should produce a draft agreement on joint use of the sea and its natural resources.

But the huge oil reserves under the Caspian Sea, along with fishing rights on dwindling supplies of precious sturgeon, are among the most valuable spoils left without a clear owner after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Kazakh Ambassador Tair Mansorov urged the participants to adopt a draft agreement on the legal status of the sea that would clarify ownership of its natural resources.

"The sooner we reach this agreement, the fewer problems like this will arise," he said.

Mansorov cautiously backed Azerbaijan at the talks by saying that the agreements between Iran and the Soviet Union had been outdated by the breakup of the Soviet Union.