Azerbaijan, Russia, Armenia pressing ahead with unblocking of regional transport links
Beginning of all-new chapter for entire region
MULTIMEDIA 26 May 2023 - 16:21
Russian President Vladimir Putin has said that Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia have launched the process of unblocking regional transport ties after the end of the Second Karabakh War between the latter two.
Putin’s remarks came during a trilateral meeting with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan on May 25 in Moscow.
“Many events have taken place since then … In general, I would say that, despite all the difficulties and problems, and we still have many of them, the situation is moving in the direction of a settlement. One of the issues here is transport ties. The three of us have talked about this in some detail just now in bilateral meetings, and there are still a few unresolved issues,” the Russian president said, adding the unsettled issues are largely related to technicalities.
According to Putin, these technical issues will be discussed in a trilateral meeting between the deputy prime ministers from the three countries next week in Moscow. However, the date for the meeting is yet to be scheduled.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Overchuk said during the meeting, in particular, the procedure for crossing the borders between Azerbaijan and Armenia for unblocking the transport links will be discussed, adding “Both countries have the same understanding of how the unblocking should go."
Overchuk noted that the sides agreed to start the process of unblocking with the construction of a railway through the Meghri region of Armenia to enable a connection between the western regions and the southwestern Nakhchivan exclave of Azerbaijan.
“Armenia will also get access to Iran, Russia [and] the Eurasian Economic Union [territory]. Armenians can easily carry their goods to wherever they want via the territory of Azerbaijan,” he said.
The trilateral working group co-led by the deputy prime ministers of Russia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia held at least ten meetings, with the first sitting taking place in Moscow in January 2022. The upcoming meeting is expected to deliver on the agreements reached during the previous discussions, including on border issues, customs and other types of control, and the safe passage of citizens, vehicles, and goods on highways and railways through the territories of Azerbaijan and Armenia.
The opening of the transport communications is part of the ceasefire deal signed between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Russia on November 10, 2020, that ended a 44-day war in the Karabakh (Garabagh) region of Azerbaijan.
Paragraph 9 of the document calls for the restoration of all economic and transport links in the region. It also obliges Armenia to guarantee the safety of transport links between Azerbaijan's western regions and its southwestern exclave of Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic. Safety measures should be put in place to facilitate the movement of citizens, vehicles and goods in both directions.
Paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of the most recent agreement address the first meeting of the working group; the creation of expert subgroups; submission of a list and a schedule by the working group for the restoration and construction of new transport infrastructure facilities necessary for the organization, implementation, and security of international traffic. The traffic includes both the transportation realized through the territories of Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as transportation carried out by these two countries, which requires crossing the territories of the two neighbouring countries.
Azerbaijan seeks to reconnect the country’s exclave – the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic – with its mainland after the successful counter-offensive on the Zangazur Corridor. Surrounded by Armenia, Iran, and Türkiye, currently, Nakhchivan is not connected via direct overland routes with mainland Azerbaijan. Nakhchivan became an exclave separated from the Azerbaijani mainland after the Soviet occupation of the South Caucasus region in 1920. Following the region’s incorporation, Soviet rulers inked a decision to transfer some of Azerbaijan's territories, including its historic region of Zangazur, which borders Nakhchivan, to the newly-created Armenian state.
The Zangazur Corridor will enable a direct connection with Nakhchivan, shortening travel time and decreasing transportation costs by creating new economic development opportunities for the region. The corridor will create new economic opportunities for the regional countries as well.
Since the end of the Second Karabakh War in 2020, Azerbaijan has been actively engaged in the construction of the multi-modal Zangazur Corridor. The railway segment of the corridor in Azerbaijan’s territory is known as the Horadiz-Aghband railroad, which measures 110.4 kilometres in length and is currently being built.
The corridor’s currently-under-construction 124-kilometre-long highway branch is called Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Aghband. The government of Azerbaijan plans to complete the Zangazur Corridor’s construction and put it into operation in 2024.
In the meantime, the Zangazur Corridor will also enable Türkiye to directly access Azerbaijan without using the land routes of Georgia and Iran, using the new corridor. Compared to the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway, which connects Azerbaijan to Turkey through Georgia, the road within the new corridor will be about 340 km shorter.
In addition, a railway communication from Russia to Armenia may be established through the territory of Azerbaijan; a railway communication will also be established between Russia and Iran through Azerbaijan's Nakhchivan region, as well as Iran and Armenia, and Türkiye.
Meanwhile, Eurasianet.author Joshua Kucera wrote that Russia and Iran have agreed to complete a railroad that would link Russia with ports on the Persian Gulf, providing a transportation lifeline – via Azerbaijan as a critical link – for the two sanctions-hit countries. The route, according to him, has gained new importance as Russia seeks to replace its former trade routes that have been cut off by Western sanctions.
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