"Armenia self-disengaged from the Zangezur corridor because of its ambitions"
    Russian expert on Caliber.Az

    INTERVIEWS  03 December 2023 - 10:28

    Vadim Mansurov

    Caliber.Az interview with Vladislav Kondratiev, Russian political scientist, an expert on the geopolitics of the Caspian region, and editor of the Caspian Vestnik portal.

    - A meeting of foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan is scheduled for December 5 in Moscow. What will the meeting of the ministers be devoted to, what issues will be discussed?

    - Following the last Caspian Summit, which was held in the capital of Turkmenistan in 2022, agreements were reached that the foreign ministers of the Caspian littoral states will meet annually to agree on positions and the process of developing joint documents. Most of them, by the way, have already been prepared and now the process of their harmonization in various areas is underway.

    Turkmen Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov's recent speech at the Caspian Day touched upon this topic - the need to implement the agreements reached at the summit last year. According to the Turkmen side, it is especially important to discuss environmental issues, the Caspian shoaling, how it affects the situation in the region, economic cooperation and economic activities of the Caspian littoral states.

    Previously, such meetings of foreign ministers took place immediately before joint summits of regional states. But with the onset of a new stage of intensification of five-sided cooperation, it was decided to hold these meetings on a regular basis. This is an important positive event for harmonizing the position of the Caspian littoral states, and it allows us to judge the effectiveness of the dialogue of the Caspian littoral states in the recent period.

    - Last month, US Assistant Secretary of State O’Brien spoke about the importance of the export route from Central Asia through the Caspian Sea, and also called for the Zangezur corridor to be built through Armenia. Why is the US suddenly concerned about the Central Asian countries and their needs? Why did the United States need the Zangezur corridor?

    - The United States has long lobbied for the creation of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), and I would even say that it is in their interests to create this kind of transit communications. Especially in Central Asia, because the Americans are confident that this will help remove these countries from the influence of Russia. They believe that strengthening economic ties and increasing economic growth influence the strengthening of the independence of countries and their “departure” from strong patrons. Moreover, this is directly related to the interests of the United States in attracting its private companies and American business to the field of cargo transportation.

    The Zangezur corridor is one of the options for the development of the Trans-Caspian corridor and this is what makes it interesting. Because if now the only exit to Europe through the South Caucasus is the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars highway, then through the Zangezur corridor the possibilities for transporting goods are significantly expanding. The latest summit of the Organization of Turkic States showed that its members are busy expanding the capabilities of the Middle Corridor and periodically “synchronizing watches” takes place on this topic.

    - And how does Russia view the prospects of the Trans-Caspian Corridor? What is Russia's interest in the Zangezur corridor?

    - On the one hand, Moscow's attitude to the TITR is certain - if the project does not involve crossing Russia, it deprives it of the opportunity to receive income from the transit of cargoes through its territory, so it is not profitable for it and creates serious competition to those routes that used to pass through the territory of Russia. On the other hand, Moscow also understands that after 2022 the partner countries are looking for stable, reliable ways to transport their cargoes to Europe. Otherwise, they, too, may come under sanctions pressure.

    At the same time, Russia also has its own interest in the Middle Corridor; it expects to use its capabilities for the Ural and Siberian regions, where there are many large industrial enterprises and products that it could supply through Azerbaijan and Türkiye to Europe. So, in general, Russia’s attitude towards the Middle Corridor is balanced and pragmatic.

    If we talk specifically about the Zangezur corridor, then this route is also extremely interesting for Russia, because Russian companies are already actively using the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars highway - metallurgical products, grain and other Russian exports were transported along it. So Russian shippers will be happy about the opening of the Zangezur corridor, because this is a new direction that promises additional financial benefits.

    - Will Armenia agree to become part of the TITR?

    - The Azerbaijani leadership has long positioned the country as a large regional logistics hub, which operates at the crossroads of two important routes: East-West and North-South. Azerbaijan benefits from any projects that involve transit through its territory. And TITR passes through the territory of Azerbaijan, Baku is one of its operators.

    As for Armenia, it is obvious that due to its ambitions and some grievances against Azerbaijan, it is losing a lot by withdrawing itself from the launch of the Zangezur corridor. And if the Zangezur corridor finally turns into the Araz corridor and operates through Iran, Armenia may forever lose this strategic opportunity.

    - How interesting is the Middle Corridor to China now?

    - Initially, TITR was moderated by Beijing and was conceived as a route for delivery of mainly Chinese cargoes through Central Asia, the South Caucasus and Türkiye to Europe. However, in the course of the latest TITR events, one detail is noticeable - somehow there is no tangible growth in the volume of Chinese goods via the Trans-Caspian, and there is no such amount of transit cargo that the participating countries were counting on.

    Now TITR is more focused on the delivery of cargoes to Europe from Central Asia than from China. Perhaps the reason is that China itself is not yet active in saturating the Middle Corridor with its cargoes. This has its own explanation: TITR logistics are not fully developed yet, and too many borders have to be crossed to deliver cargo from point A to point B.

    Although comprehensive measures are now being taken to create a single corridor operator, unified tariff rates are being agreed upon. However, this process has not been finalized yet. So, I think it will take a few more years for China to actively join this process.


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