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Russia and Iran locked in bitter battle over Caspian Sea rights

Though close partners, the two states don’t see eye-to-eye on sharing the world’s largest inland lake

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(Al-Monitor) – Nearly three decades after the collapse of the Soviet Union and following 26 years of tough negotiations, a solution to the legal status of the Caspian Sea appears to be on the horizon.

Speaking after the recent summit of the Caspian Sea littoral states’ foreign ministers in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, “We have found solutions to all the remaining major issues related to the preparation of this document [the draft Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea]. The text of the meeting is actually ready,” although he provided no further details.

Neither Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif nor his Azerbaijani, Kazakh and Turkmen counterparts have confirmed Lavrov’s statement. However, two senior Iranian diplomats rejected the notion that the demarcation of the Caspian Sea was discussed at the summit in Moscow.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi said, “The issue of demarcation was not even on the agenda of the meeting,” while Deputy Foreign Minister for Asia-Pacific Affairs Ebrahim Rahimpour said, “We still haven’t reached an agreement over the division, especially with the two neighboring countries” of Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the three newly independent republics of Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan emerged as states along the Caspian coast. Under the new arrangement, Kazakhstan and Russia have been sharing the northern section of the sea, while, Iran has been sharing the southern part with Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.

Use of the term “sea” in reference to the Caspian can cause confusion as it implies that it is no different from the Black or Baltic seas. The Caspian is landlocked and thus the world’s largest lake. From a legal point of view, the determination of whether the Caspian is a sea or a lake can have a significant impact on the regulations concerning it.

For instance, while the coastal states agreed in the Alma-Ata Declaration of 1991 to recognize the Caspian as a lake, Kazakhstan four years later stated that from a legal point of view, it considers it a sea. The implication of the latter would be that the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea would apply to it. However, there has been no agreement to date among the coastal states on whether the UN convention governs the Caspian, which could impact the reaching of a final agreement.

Given these challenges, in terms of international law, the matter of the delimitation of the Caspian is a “sui generis” case and thus needs an exclusive legal regime, i.e., a framework of rules governing its legal status. The stakes are high: After Iran’s border disagreements with Iraq in the 1970s, it is the biggest challenge for Iranian sovereignty over the past four decades.

According to the UN convention, a sea or lake surrounded by two or more countries is considered a “closed sea” if no waterway gives it access to open waters and thus falls under the following legalities:

  • Freedom of sailing activities and the principle of innocent passage do not apply to closed seas.
  • Governing legalities over such bodies of water and designation of borderlines come from an agreement between all surrounding countries.
  • Coastal countries have exclusive rights over fishing and resources.
  • Coastal countries have exclusive rights to govern those waters, including the right to legislation.

Among the five Caspian states, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan support the enforcement of the UN convention. But Russia and Iran — two countries with a long and historical right in the Caspian — strongly disagree with the idea of the presence of third-party countries’ presence, including military presence, in the region.

Russia is of the view that the 1921 and 1940 agreements between Iran and the Soviet Union could be extended to leverage new potential agreements. It also emphasizes that the Caspian is an indivisible body of water and ecosystem, and that its resources belong to all five coastal states. As such, any exploitation of its resources should only be allowed by multilateral agreement between all parties.

No legislative regime over lakes has ever been developed by the International Court of Justice, which makes the case of the Caspian unique from this aspect as well.

Some governments and international lawyers have made efforts to establish regulations for inland waters. For instance, international common practice posits that lakes surrounded by more than one country should be governed by agreements between the countries. In this vein, there are three major common practice systems: full division, equal division and condominium. Iran has added a legal solution to these methods: acting based on the principle of fairness.

Soon after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Iran was pursuing an equally shared system of use for the Caspian Sea. In this pursuit, Tehran’s main objective was to reinforce previous agreements with Moscow, insisting that a condominium regime should apply and disputing exploitation of resources by any individual party. Following changes in the posture of the Iranian government and also changes of position among coastal countries, Iran eventually accepted the idea of dividing exploitation rights between the five countries.

The presidents of the coastal states agreed in their summit in Astrakhan in September 2014 on the scope of territorial waters (15 nautical miles) and exclusive fishing zones (10 nautical miles). But other important issues, such as the seabed status and shares of underwater resources, remain unclear.

Indeed, Iran’s position is not limited to pursuit of a “fair mechanism” to share the seabed, but also the rich subterranean resources — for all five countries. This will give about a 20% share of seabed to Iran instead of up to 13%, which was suggested in the Russian proposal. None of the coastal states have so far endorsed the Iranian position. A major stumbling block thus remains, and it remains unclear whether there has been acquiescence to Tehran’s proposal or whether something new that is mutually acceptable has been put on the table.

For now, the expectation is that a draft of an agreement on a new legal regime for the Caspian Sea will be finalized at the next summit of the leaders of the coastal states, which will reportedly be held in Kazakhstan in early 2018.

If the text is finalized, it will need to be approved by the Iranian parliament and endorsed by the Guardian Council before Iran can enter a new Caspian Sea legal regime. Implementing the potential agreement would resolve the biggest legal challenge over the largest landlocked sea in the world after nearly three decades.

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Constantinople: Ukrainian Church leader is now uncanonical

October 12 letter proclaims Metropolitan Onuphry as uncanonical and tries to strong-arm him into acquiescing through bribery and force.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The pressure in Ukraine kept ratcheting up over the last few days, with a big revelation today that Patriarch Bartholomew now considers Metropolitan Onuphy “uncanonical.” This news was published on 6 December by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church (running under the Moscow Patriarchate).

This assessment marks a complete 180-degree turn by the leader of the Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople, and it further embitters the split that has developed to quite a major row between this church’s leadership and the Moscow Patriarchate.

OrthoChristian reported this today (we have added emphasis):

A letter of Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople to His Beatitude Metropolitan Onuphry of Kiev and All Ukraine was published yesterday by a hierarch of the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in which the Patriarch informed the Metropolitan that his title and position is, in fact, uncanonical.

This assertion represents a negation of the position held by Pat. Bartholomew himself until April of this year, when the latest stage in the Ukrainian crisis began…

The same letter was independently published by the Greek news agency Romfea today as well.

It is dated October 12, meaning it was written just one day after Constantinople made its historic decision to rehabilitate the Ukrainian schismatics and rescind the 1686 document whereby the Kiev Metropolitanate was transferred to the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby, in Constantinople’s view, taking full control of Ukraine.

In the letter, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that after the council, currently scheduled for December 15, he will no longer be able to carry his current title of “Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine.”

The Patriarch immediately opens his letter with Constantinople’s newly-developed historical claim about the jurisdictional alignment of Kiev: “You know from history and from indisputable archival documents that the holy Metropolitanate of Kiev has always belonged to the jurisdiction of the Mother Church of Constantinople…”

Constantinople has done an about-face on its position regarding Ukraine in recent months, given that it had previously always recognized the Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Moscow Patriarchate as the sole canonical primate in Ukraine.

…The bulk of the Patriarch’s letter is a rehash of Constantinople’s historical and canonical arguments, which have already been laid out and discussed elsewhere. (See also here and here). Pat. Bartholomew also writes that Constantinople stepped into the Ukrainian ecclesiastical sphere as the Russian Church had not managed to overcome the schisms that have persisted for 30 years.

It should be noted that the schisms began and have persisted precisely as anti-Russian movements and thus the relevant groups refused to accept union with the Russian Church.

Continuing, Pat. Bartholomew informs Met. Onuphry that his position and title are uncanonical:

Addressing you as ‘Your Eminence the Metropolitan of Kiev’ as a form of economia [indulgence/condescension—OC] and mercy, we inform you that after the elections for the primate of the Ukrainian Church by a body that will consist of clergy and laity, you will not be able ecclesiologically and canonically to bear the title of Metropolitan of Kiev, which, in any case, you now bear in violation of the described conditions of the official documents of 1686.

He also entreats Met. Onuphry to “promptly and in a spirit of harmony and unity” participate, with the other hierarchs of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, in the founding council of the new Ukrainian church that Constantinople is planning to create, and in the election of its primate.

The Constantinople head also writes that he “allows” Met. Onuphry to be a candidate for the position of primate.

He further implores Met. Onuphry and the UOC hierarchy to communicate with Philaret Denisenko, the former Metropolitan of Kiev, and Makary Maletich, the heads of the schismatic “Kiev Patriarchate” and the schismatic “Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church” respectively—both of which have been subsumed into Constantinople—but whose canonical condemnations remain in force for the canonical Ukrainian Orthodox Church.

The hierarchs of the Serbian and Polish Churches have also officially rejected the rehabilitation of the Ukrainian schismatics.

Pat. Bartholomew concludes expressing his confidence that Met. Onuphry will decide to heal the schism through the creation of a new church in Ukraine.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church under Metropolitan Onuphry’s leadership is recognized as the sole canonical Orthodox jurisdiction in Ukraine by just about every other canonical Orthodox Jurisdiction besides Constantinople. Even NATO member Albania, whose expressed reaction was “both sides are wrong for recent actions” still does not accept the canonicity of the “restored hierarchs.”

In fact, about the only people in this dispute that seem to be in support of the “restored” hierarchs, Filaret and Makary, are President Poroshenko, Patriarch Bartholomew, Filaret and Makary… and NATO.

While this letter was released to the public eye yesterday, the nearly two months that Metropolitan Onuphry has had to comply with it have not been helped in any way by the actions of both the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Ukrainian government.

Priests of the Canonical Church in Ukraine awaiting interrogation by the State authorities

For example, in parallel reports released on December 6th, the government is reportedly accusing canonical priests in Ukraine of treason because they are carrying and distributing a brochure entitled (in English): The Ukrainian Orthodox Church: Relations with the State. The Attitude Towards the Conflict in Donbass and to the Church Schism. Questions and Answers.

In a manner that would do any American liberal proud, these priests are being accused of inciting religious hatred, though really all they are doing is offering an explanation for the situation in Ukraine as it exists.

A further piece also released yesterday notes that the Ukrainian government rehabilitated an old Soviet-style technique of performing “inspections of church artifacts” at the Pochaev Lavra. This move appears to be both intended to intimidate the monastics who are living there now, who are members of the canonical Church, as well as preparation for an expected forcible takeover by the new “united Church” that is under creation. The brotherhood characterized the inspections in this way:

The brotherhood of the Pochaev Lavra previously characterized the state’s actions as communist methods of putting pressure on the monastery and aimed at destroying monasticism.

Commenting on the situation with the Pochaev Lavra, His Eminence Archbishop Clement of Nizhyn and Prilusk, the head of the Ukrainian Church’s Information-Education Department, noted:

This is a formal raiding, because no reserve ever built the Pochaev Lavra, and no Ministry of Culture ever invested a single penny to restoring the Lavra, and the state has done nothing to preserve the Lavra in its modern form. The state destroyed the Lavra, turned it into a psychiatric hospital, a hospital for infectious diseases, and so on—the state has done nothing more. And now it just declares that it all belongs to the state. No one asked the Church, the people that built it. When did the Lavra and the land become state property? They belonged to the Church from time immemorial.

With the massive pressure both geopolitically and ecclesiastically building in Ukraine almost by the day, it is anyone’s guess what will happen next.

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Ukrainian leadership is a party of war, and it will continue as long as they’re in power – Putin

“We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

RT

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Via RT…


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has branded the Ukrainian leadership a “party of war” which would continue fueling conflicts while they stay in power, giving the recent Kerch Strait incident as an example.

“When I look at this latest incident in the Black Sea, all what’s happening in Donbass – everything indicates that the current Ukrainian leadership is not interested in resolving this situation at all, especially in a peaceful way,” Putin told reporters during a media conference in the aftermath of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

This is a party of war and as long as they stay in power, all such tragedies, all this war will go on.

The Kiev authorities are craving war primarily for two reasons – to rip profits from it, and to blame all their own domestic failures on it and actions of some sort of “aggressors.”

“As they say, for one it’s war, for other – it’s mother. That’s reason number one why the Ukrainian government is not interested in a peaceful resolution of the conflict,” Putin stated.

Second, you can always use war to justify your failures in economy, social policy. You can always blame things on an aggressor.

This approach to statecraft by the Ukrainian authorities deeply concerns Russia’s President. “We care about Ukraine because Ukraine is our neighbor,” Putin said.

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have been soaring after the incident in the Kerch Strait. Last weekend three Ukrainian Navy ships tried to break through the strait without seeking the proper permission from Russia. Following a tense stand-off and altercation with Russia’s border guard, the vessels were seized and their crews detained over their violation of the country’s border.

While Kiev branded the incident an act of “aggression” on Moscow’s part, Russia believes the whole Kerch affair to be a deliberate “provocation” which allowed Kiev to declare a so-called “partial” martial law ahead of Ukraine’s presidential election.

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When Putin Met Bin Sally

Another G20 handshake for the history books.

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Via Zerohedge


In the annals of handshake photo-ops, we just may have a new winner (much to the delight of oil bulls who are looking at oil treading $50 and contemplating jumping out of the window).

Nothing but sheer joy, delight and friendship…

…but something is missing…

Meanwhile, earlier…

Zoomed in…

And again.

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