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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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Photos of swastika on Ukrainian mall stairway creates a stir [Video]

Ukrainian nationalist press in damage-control mode to explain away the Nazi sign, but they forgot the name of the street the mall is on.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the aspects of news about Ukraine that does not make it past the gatekeepers of the American and Western news media is how a significant contingent of Ukrainian nationalists have espoused a sense of reverence for Nazis. The idea that this could even happen anywhere in the world in an open manner makes the claim seem too absurd to be taken seriously. Gone are the days when the Nazi swastika adorned streets and buildings in Europe. Right?

Well, maybe, wrong.

This was seen in Kyiv’s Gorodok (or Horodok, if you insist) Gallery, a shopping center in that city, located on Bandera Avenue.

The pro-nationalist news service UNIAN wasted no time going to press with their explanation of this incident, which admittedly may be accurate:

Children and teenagers who participated in the All-Ukrainian break dance festival held in the Kyiv-based Gorodok Gallery shopping mall were shocked to see a swastika image projected onto an LED staircase.

The mall administration apologized to visitors, explaining saying that their computer system had apparently been hacked.

“The administration and staff have no relation to whatever was projected onto the LED-staircase, and in no way does it support such [an] act. Now we are actively searching for those involved in the attack,” it said in a statement.

According to Gorodok Gallery’s administrative office, it was not the first time a cyber breach took place.

As reported earlier, Ukraine is believed to be a testing ground for cyberattacks, many of which are launched from Russia. Hackers have earlier targeted critical energy infrastructure, state institutions, banks, and large businesses.

This time, it appears, hackers aimed to feed the Kremlin’s narrative of “Nazis in power in Ukraine” and create a relevant hype-driving viral story for Russian media to spread it worldwide.

The Gorodok Gallery also apologized on its Facebook page and said that this was a result of hacking.

But what about the street that the mall is on? From the self-same Facebook page, this is what we see:


To translate, for those who do not read Ukrainian or Russian, the address says the following:

23 Steven Bandera Prospekt, Kyiv, Ukraine 04073

This street was formerly called “Moscow Avenue.” Big change, as we shall see.

Steven Bandera got his birthday designated as a national holiday in Ukraine last December. He is known in Ukraine’s history for one thing. According to the Jerusalem Post:

The street where the shopping mall is located is named for Stepan Bandera, a Ukrainian nationalist who briefly collaborated with Nazi Germany in its fight against Russia.

His troops are believed to have killed thousands of Jews.

Several Israeli papers picked this bit of news up, and of course, the reasons are understandable. However, for the West, it appears possible that this news event will largely go unnoticed, even by that great nation that is often called “Israel’s proxy”, the United States.

This is probably because for certain people in the US, there is a sense of desperation to mask the nature of events that are happening in Ukraine.

The usual fare of mainstream news for the West probably consists of things like “Putin’s military seizes innocent Ukrainian sailors in Kerch incident” or, “Ukraine’s Orthodox Church declared fully independent by Patriarch of Constantinople” (not that too many Americans know what a Constantinople even is, anyway), but the overriding narrative for the American people about this country is “Ukraine are the good guys, and Russia are the bad guys,” and this will not be pushed aside, even to accommodate the logical grievance of Israel to this incident.

If this article gets to Western papers at all, it will be the UNIAN line they adhere to, that evil pro-Russia hackers caused this stairway to have a swastika to provoke the idea that Ukraine somehow supports Naziism.

But UNIAN neglected to mention that the street name was recently changed to Stephan Bandera (in 2016), and no one appears to have hacked this. Nor does UNIAN talk about the Azov fighters that openly espoused much of the Nazi ideology. For nationalist Ukrainians, this is all for the greater good of getting rid of all things Russia.

A further sad fact about this is the near impossibility of getting assuredly honest and neutral information about this and other similar happenings. Both Ukrainian nationalists and Russian media agencies have dogs in the race, so to speak. They are both personally connected to these events. However, the Russian media cannot be discounted here, because they do offer a witness and perspective, probably the closest to any objective look at what is going on in Ukraine. We include a video of a “torchlight march” that took place in 2017 that featured such hypernationalist activity, which is not reported in the West.

More such reports are available, but this one seemed the best one to summarize the character of what is going on in the country.

While we do not know the motive and identities of whoever programmed the swastika, it cannot really be stated that this was just a random publicity stunt in a country that has no relationship with Nazi veneration.

The street the mall is on bears witness to that.

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Putin: If mid-range missiles deployed in Europe, Russia will station arms to strike decision centers

Putin: If US deploys mid-range missiles in Europe, Russia will be forced to respond.

RT

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Via RT…


If the US deploys intermediate-range missiles in Europe, Moscow will respond by stationing weapons aimed not only against missiles themselves, but also at command and control centers, from which a launch order would come.

The warning came from President Vladimir Putin, who announced Russia’s planned actions after the US withdraws from the INF Treaty – a Cold War-era agreement between Washington and Moscow which banned both sides form having ground-based cruise and ballistic missiles and developing relevant technology.

The US is set to unilaterally withdraw from the treaty in six months, which opens the possibility of once again deploying these missiles in Europe. Russia would see that as a major threat and respond with its own deployments, Putin said.

Intermediate-range missiles were banned and removed from Europe because they would leave a very short window of opportunity for the other side to decide whether to fire in retaliation after detecting a launch – mere minutes. This poses the threat of an accidental nuclear exchange triggered by a false launch warning, with the officer in charge having no time to double check.

“Russia will be forced to create and deploy weapon systems, which can be used not only against the territories from which this direct threat would be projected, but also against those territories where decision centers are located, from which an order to use those weapons against us may come.” The Russian president, who was delivering a keynote address to the Russian parliament on Wednesday, did not elaborate on whether any counter-deployment would only target US command-and-control sites in Europe or would also include targets on American soil.

He did say the Russian weapon system in terms of flight times and other specifications would “correspond” to those targeting Russia.

“We know how to do it and we will implement those plans without a delay once the relevant threats against us materialize,”he said.

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Russia’s Lukoil Halts Oil Swaps In Venezuela After U.S. Sanctions

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades.

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Via Oilprice.com


Litasco, the international trading arm of Russia’s second-biggest oil producer Lukoil, stopped its oil swaps deals with Venezuela immediately after the U.S. imposed sanctions on Venezuela’s oil industry and state oil firm PDVSA, Lukoil’s chief executive Vagit Alekperov said at an investment forum in Russia.

Russia, which stands by Nicolas Maduro in the ongoing Venezuelan political crisis, has vowed to defend its interests in Venezuela—including oil interests—within the international law using “all mechanisms available to us.”

Because of Moscow’s support for Maduro, the international community and market analysts are closely watching the relationship of Russian oil companies with Venezuela.

“Litasco does not work with Venezuela. Before the restrictions were imposed, Litasco had operations to deliver oil products and to sell oil. There were swap operations. Today there are none, since the sanctions were imposed,” Lukoil’s Alekperov said at the Russian Investment Forum in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.

Another Russian oil producer, Gazprom Neft, however, does not see major risks for its oil business in Venezuela, the company’s chief executive officer Alexander Dyukov said at the same event.

Gazprom Neft has not supplied and does not supply oil products to Venezuela needed to dilute the thick heavy Venezuelan oil, Dyukov said, noting that the Latin American country hadn’t approached Gazprom Neft for possible supply of oil products for diluents.

Under the new wide-ranging U.S. sanctions, Venezuela will not be able to import U.S. naphtha which it has typically used to dilute its heavy crude grades. Analysts expect that a shortage of diluents could accelerate beginning this month the already steadily declining Venezuelan oil production and exports.

Venezuela’s crude oil production plunged by another 59,000 bpd from December 2018 to stand at just 1.106 million bpd in January 2019, OPEC’s secondary sources figures showed in the cartel’s closely watched Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) this week.

By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com

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