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Friday, 26 April, 2002, 04:41 GMT 05:41 UK
Russia moots new Caspian share-out
President Putin holds a sturgeon during a visit to a fish farm
Apart from oil, the Caspian is famed for caviar production
Russia could seek to divide out the Caspian Sea's oil and gas riches in a series of bilateral deals if an overall settlement proves elusive, President Vladimir Putin has said.

His comments came a day after a presidential summit of the five littoral nations broke up without agreement on sharing Caspian resources.

On his way back to Moscow he also had talks in the Russian port city of Astrakhan, urging military exercises centring on the inland sea for the first time in a decade.

In Astrakhan - known for the increasingly endangered sturgeon and black caviar - he also expressed grave concern about the effects of poaching.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the legal status of the Caspian Sea has been in limbo, hindering exploration and pumping of oil and gas reserves.

No deal

A declaration of general principles was prepared at Wednesday's summit hosted by Turkmenistan, but leaders could not agree on it.

"If it is not possible for all the Caspian states to agree on all the problems, then Russia thinks it would be right to settle the disputes with its neighbours on a bilateral basis," Interfax news agency quoted Mr Putin as saying on Thursday.
Putin and Iran's President Khatami embrace
Iran would lose out if the Caspian were split according to shoreline length

However, he acknowledged that even bilateral agreements could fail to break the Caspian stalemate, and that accords on single issues such as conservation and transport might have to be sought.

Iran and Turkmenistan want the seabed to be split equally five ways, while Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Russia want the Caspian split into national sectors, according to the length of each country's coastline.

Speaking in Astrakhan, Mr Putin told Russian navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov to arrange military exercises this summer, bringing in the other arms of service apart from the navy aiming to develop coordination in the fight against terrorism.

Poachers encroach

He was also quoted as saying representatives of the other Caspian states could be invited.

Turning his attention to environmental problems, the Russian leader condemned widespread sturgeon poaching in the Caspian as "monstrous" calling and verging on "bio-terrorism".

He also accused some local authorities of conniving in poaching, and lamented the fact that some poachers had more sophisticated equipment to pursue their trade than the forces trying to catch them.

The Caspian accounts for about 90% of caviar production, but fish stocks have plummeted as a result of pollution, poaching and smuggling.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Caspian Sea talks break down
30 Sep 01 | Europe
Caspian pipeline deal signed
06 Mar 02 | Europe
Caspian caviar ban lifted
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