The Caspian Sea: Is it a lake? Or sea?

World Atlas

The Caspian Sea is a large landlocked body of water. It has been called a lake and a sea. This salty body of water is rich in gas, oil and sturgeon fish that give the expensive delicacy, caviar.

The Caspian Sea is also located in a strategic spot between Europe and Asia. Countries like Russia and Iran have deployed naval warships in the past to safeguard the resources in the area and exercise their might. This has also inspired other countries to build bigger navies.

What’s in a name? Is it a lake or a sea?

Here’s a new term for you: Geopolitics. This is the study of the effects of geography on politics. This is a great example of geopolitics:

Before 1991, The Caspian Sea was considered a lake and the maritime area (waterbody) was shared by the bordering countries, the Soviet Union and Iran.

In 1991, the Soviet Union split into 15 countries. Suddenly, the Caspian Sea shoreline was shared by 5 countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Iran. and Turkmenistan!

A long dispute emerged about who would control the surface and untapped rich resources. Iran argued it was a lake and not a sea, but none of the four other countries agreed. I know that sounds silly! But, classifying it as a lake meant it would get equally divided among the five countries, and if the body was treated as a sea, each country would get a share in proportion to its shoreline. Iran had the most to lose as it has the least resource-rich portion of the sea.


Fast forward to today:

Finally, after 20 years of failed negotiations and meetings, there has been a breakthrough. Last weekend, the Presidents of the 5 countries met in Kazakhstan and signed a deal.  The deal gives the Caspian Sea  “special legal status” which means it is neither defined as a sea nor a lake.

In principle, they agreed to divide up the world’s largest inland body of water and its vast oil and gas resources. Each country will own 15 nautical miles from their coastline and anything beyond will be shared by the 5 bordering countries. The rich seabed – which remains untapped and has an estimated  48 billion barrels of oil and nearly 300 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, will be split up. The exact details of how they will divide up the seabed is yet to be discussed.

They have agreed to forbid any foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea and fix fishing quotas to prevent overfishing of caviar.

Will this breakthrough pave the way for oil and gas exploration and the construction of underwater oil and gas pipelines? Will this deal bring additional cooperation between the countries? Only time will tell.

Written by Biyash Choksey. Biyash is a news junkie, manic list maker and passionate foodie.

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