Western Route prevails: Russia, Iran recognize Azerbaijan as front-runner in North-South Corridor

Economy Materials 18 May 2023 09:45 (UTC +04:00)
Western Route prevails: Russia, Iran recognize Azerbaijan as front-runner in North-South Corridor
Maryana Ahmadova
Maryana Ahmadova
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BAKU, Azerbaijan, May 18. The International North-South Transport Corridor, often referred to as the North-South Corridor, is a well-known and widely discussed trade route in the realm of global trade. It stretches from Russia through Azerbaijan and Iran to India, encompassing a comprehensive system of railways, roads, and maritime routes. The primary aim of this corridor is to streamline and improve trade between the start and end points of this significant route.

Just yesterday, Russia and Iran have signed an agreement on the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway line.

Russia has allocated a total of 1.6 billion euros for the development of the segment of the railway. This particular railway construction project is anticipated to reach completion within a timeframe of 48 months. Along the 163-kilometers Rasht-Astara railway line, nine stations are set to be constructed. Once this railway project is successfully concluded, it will significantly enhance the efficiency and functionality of the International North-South Transport Corridor. Furthermore, it will establish vital railway connections between Iran, the Caucasus countries, Russia, and Northern European countries.

Iranian officials have estimated that a total of $4.76 billion will be required to successfully complete the construction of this significant railway line.

Both Iran and Russia, facing Western sanctions, are seeking mutual support and actively working to strengthen their cooperation. However, due to the absence of a shared border, they are compelled to cooperate either through the Caspian Sea or by using Azerbaijan's territory. Thus, the most preferable pathway for transporting goods, resources, and virtually everything else would be via Azerbaijan.

Moreover, Azerbaijan enjoys well-established economic connections with the neighboring regions of both Russia and Iran. For instance, approximately 100-200 trucks cross the Astara border checkpoint between Iran and Azerbaijan on a daily basis. Simultaneously, Iran is consistently expanding its exports to Azerbaijan through the same checkpoint.

Thanks to Azerbaijan's efforts, this part of the North-South corridor passing through its territory has been completed. However, the corridor was not operating at its full potential because it was not particularly crucial for Russia, which focused on other directions, and Iran was slow in making decisions. Meanwhile, Azerbaijan has developed modern road and railway infrastructure within its territory, necessary for the launch of this route.

The Western Route, spanning 1,450 kilometers, which passes through Azerbaijan, is undeniably the most utilized and well-developed section of this corridor. The statistics demonstrate its significance, as the transit volume of goods along the Western route reached an impressive 2.15 million tons from January 1 through March 28, 2023. This marks a remarkable year-on-year growth of 84.37 percent, compared to the 1.16 million tons transported in 2022. The only hindrance in operating the route at full capacity has been the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway line. However, an agreement between Iran and Russia to build this line has been successfully finalized.

Transport routes that traverse Azerbaijan are now more appealing than ever, as the country is actively facilitating safe and expedited transit. Azerbaijan boasts a modern transportation infrastructure encompassing railways, roads, and maritime facilities, which not only saves time but also reduces costs. Consequently, it comes as no surprise that the volume of transit cargo passing through Azerbaijan witnessed a remarkable year-on-year increase of over 75 percent in 2022.

While partners were waiting for some progress from Iran regarding the railway project, the Iranian side unexpectedly announced its intention to work on the Persian Gulf-Black Sea route with Armenia. It seems that Iran had counted on utilizing the Armenian railways that were operational during the Soviet era. However, due to Azerbaijan's decisive victory in the 44-day war, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. The impracticality of such plans was apparent to all, leading the Iranian side to recognize that the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway remained their primary focus.

In today's complex and rapidly changing world, Azerbaijan, situated at the crossroads between East and West, is becoming an increasingly attractive destination. In addition to the North-South corridor, Azerbaijan has also enhanced the capacity of the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route, commonly known as the Middle Corridor. Essentially, Azerbaijan has provided unparalleled conditions for the fastest, most cost-effective, and convenient transportation of goods.

The extensive construction work conducted in Azerbaijan's Karabakh and Zangazur economic regions, along with the two operational international airports and the potential opening of the Zangazur Corridor, will create vast opportunities not only for Iran and Russia but also for the broader region.

Through immense efforts invested in modernizing its transport and logistics infrastructure, the country will maintain its crucial role in transportation, regardless of any regional or global geopolitical disruptions.