Policy Memos

Energy Deposits and Contested Maritime Boundaries in Eurasia

Policy Memo:


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Numerous boundary disputes in Eurasia concern regions with proven or suspected petroleum deposits. Some of these disputes have been solved peacefully, as in the case of Russia and Norway, which successfully delimited their maritime boundary in 2010. Others remain unresolved and even lead to military build-ups and confrontations, as in the Caspian Sea. This memo outlines a set of petroleum-related maritime disputes in which Russia has a stake. It argues that Russia’s actions are driven by political and geo-economic considerations and that financial gain is a secondary concern in these disputes.

Across the globe, numerous states make competing claims for maritime regions in which oil and gas deposits are suspected or already known to exist. Most prominent today is the South China Sea, where China insists on maritime boundaries that conflict with the claims of its neighbors, including those of the Philippines and Vietnam. Similarly, China and Japan have a long-standing dispute in the East China Sea, where considerable gas resources are assumed. Since 2008, substantial gas finds in the Eastern Mediterranean have aggravated existing tensions between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey and have transformed the undelimited maritime region between Israel and Lebanon into a possible source of friction as well. In Eurasia, the most prominent petroleum-related boundary disputes remain those among Caspian states—between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and between Iran and the four other littoral states. Similarly, Russia and its Arctic neighbors have unresolved maritime issues in the far north, where speculation on substantial petroleum reserves abounds. [...]

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About the author

Research Professor of International Affairs, IERES; Director of Research, Sustainable GW
George Washington University