Staunton, April 8 – Less than two weeks from now, a rail bridge linking Azerbaijan and Iran is set to open, the next step toward the establishment of a North-South trade corridor between Russia and Iran later this year that has the potential to transform the geopolitics not only of the Caucasus but of southwest Asia more generally.
On the one hand, this corridor, which is to pass along the western shore of the Caspian Sea, will further reduce the importance of Armenia and Georgia to Moscow and likely increase the Russian tilt toward Azerbaijan. And on the other, it will make possible more rapid and less expensive shipment of goods between Europe and Asia than the current Suez route.
This new North-South corridor, one that Moscow has long pushed but that had been on hold because of international sanctions against Iran for its nuclear program, is the subject of a detailed report by Olga Samofalova in Moscow’s “Vzglyad” newspaper (vz.ru/economy/2016/4/7/804116.html).
“The transportation corridor from Russia to Iran via Azerbaijan is an important part of the larger North-South project which was frozen in connection with the imposition by the West of sanctions on Iran. With the lifting of sanctions, the Russian journalist says, “the realization of this project again became achievable.”
This larger project, she continues, is intended to handle freight “from India, Iran and other countries of the Persian Gulf onto Russian territory via the Caspian Sea and further to northern and western Europe.” The rail line will allow goods to pass this way in 14 days rather than the 40 days now required if the goods go through the crowded Suez Canal.
The opening of the rail bridge between Azerbaijan and Iran is slated for April 20, Azerbaijani officials say, who add that they expect to complete all work linking the Azerbaijani and Iranian rail networks before the end of this year, despite all construction difficulties arising from a most difficult topography.