Russia and Iran are on the rise the idea of a transport route called the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which despite some problems is making headway and could reshape Eurasian connectivity.
The Eurasians of the Islamic Republic pivot point it’s not just about balancing the pressure Iran is experiencing from the US. Rather, it is about successfully positioning the country as a hub of Eurasia: Connecting the Central Asian countries with the Persian Gulf and India with Russia.
The INSTC can connect the Persian Gulf and Indian ports with Russia, a dream that captured the Russian imagination during its 19th centuryth Century imperial expansion and triggered what has been referred to as the Great match with the British Raj. Warm water port access works for both Russia and India, providing an alternative to long sea routes for trade to Russia, Turkey and the rest of Europe. Ideally, route 18 lasts days from the Baltic Sea to India via Azerbaijan and Iran.
Talks about the corridor have been going on since the early 2000s and are now nearing their final stages. What remains to be completed is the Rasht-Astara railway section between Iran and Azerbaijan – a crucial link missing due to US sanctions imposed on Iran over its quest for nuclear weapons. At the moment the connection is only 70% complete and much will depend on a possible nuclear deal – the talks are on currently stuck – which could remove major sanctions and allow the Islamic Republic to engage more actively in the South Caucasus.
That of Russian President Vladimir Putin Visit Iran in July prompted a flurry of comments in the corridor, perhaps a sign that Russia is now realizing the importance of the project. Previously, the Kremlin had been ambivalent. Of course, it supports the idea from the beginning, but never really pressed for implementation. But with the fallout from Putin’s war in Ukraine now clear, there is significant incentive to revive the flag-flying scheme, which could help the two Eurasian powers evade Western sanctions.
The new momentum emerges from official statements. The Director of the Iranian Society for Construction and Development of Transport Infrastructure, said Abbas Khatibi following Putin’s visit that the country is ready to complete the project. On June 11, two containers set off from St. Petersburg to Astrakhan, then to the Iranian port city of Anzali on the Caspian Sea and finally to Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf. The cargo was a test, but the timing is significant as it coincided with Russia’s trade problems and Putin’s visit to Iran. This followed the Iranian Minister of Roads and Urban Development Rostam Qasemi Trip April to Moscow, where a comprehensive agreement on transport cooperation was signed with the Russians. On September 11 Iran, Russia and Azerbaijan signed a special statement on INSTC.
For Iran, the corridor opens access to the 10 cities with 1 million or more consumers along the Volga, but also as a connection to Central Asia and the Black Sea. From Azerbaijan, Iranian goods could go east to the Kazakh port of Aktau. Another option is to look west towards Georgia’s Black Sea ports and the European market.
South Caucasus countries have recently been particularly active in transport connectivity. Georgia and Azerbaijan deserve special mention. For example, the development of the Trans-Caspian international transport corridor was the subject of a quadrilateral expression of Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Kazakhstan on March 31, which issued a joint statement on the need to strengthen the corridor. In May, Georgia discussed this together with Kazakhstan and Turkey middle corridor (which runs from the Black Sea to Central Asia via the South Caucasus, avoiding Russia). held In Ankara. Later that month, the Georgian Railways announced that it is working with companies from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan to create a new shipping route between the Georgian port of Poti and Constanta in Romania.
Apart from that, the Georgian leadership has been active through a number of activities visits to the Central Asian states. Similar visits were made by the Azerbaijani leader. The main theme of all visits was connectivity, especially since the necessary infrastructure is already in place. The 2017 begin of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway and the growing network of regional roads connecting the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea provide a solid foundation for China-EU trade cooperation in the South Caucasus.
However, the sanctions now imposed on Russia make the INSTC even more complicated. Furthermore, despite a common desire to stand up to the West, Iran and Russia also share a number of disagreements when it comes to the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. There is also an ingrained one mistrust between the two.
Nevertheless, the war in Ukraine gives impetus. Should the West restore the nuclear deal with Iran, the two countries will seek to complete the corridor project: as a result, they may expect a significant increase in sanctions evasion.
Emil Avdaliani is a professor at the European University and Director of Middle East Studies at the Georgian think tank Geocase.