Staunton, July 26 – Moscow desperately wants to develop a North-South transportation corridor through Iran to end run a Western sanctions regime that it describes as having imposed a virtual “naval blockade” of the country, but it faces serious obstacles not only political but technical in doing so, Russian experts say.
Mikhail Voytenko, a Russian journalist who specializes in maritime issues, says that “the situation with regard to Russian shipping is now very serious. There has never been anything like in the history of world shipping. These restrictions are not sanctions; they are a full-blown naval blockade” (interaffairs.ru/news/show/36291).
At present, he says, Russian ships are prevented from entering ports or processing Russian cargo and major international carriers have pulled out of the Russian market. But the most serious development is that Russian ships have been cut off from constantly updated electronic navigational charts.
Under current maritime law, Voytenko says, “a ship which does not update its electronic charts is considered unseaworthy and may even be detained.” That combined with the introduction of a ban on insurance carrying Russian goods “really indicates that a naval blockade of the Russian Federation” has been imposed.
That has meant that Russia feels compelled to develop the North-South corridor through Iran to avoid sanctions. But another Russian expert, Vladimir Sazhin of the Moscow Institute of Oriental Studies, says that it faces six serious difficulties in doing so, many of which are insurmountable in the near term.
First of all, Russia lacks a fleet of river-sea boats capable of moving from the rivers to the ocean. Its few ships of this kind have an average age of 40 years and must soon be replaced. And it lacks the large number of containers needed for the transit of most finished goods to other countries.
Second, its ports at Astrakhan and Makhachkala are aging and inadequate to handle any significant increase in transit operations or indeed container operations at all.
Third, its internal waterways are too shallow to handle larger ships and aren’t being dredged often enough to handle even existing ones twelve months a year.
Fourth, Russia and Iran currently lack the direct railroad connections that would support an expansion of shipping.
Fifth, Russia lacks a single agreed-upon planning document on addressing all these issues.
And sixth, it has a serious problem with cadres. In almost all these areas, there is a shortage of qualified personnel and no obvious way to meet that shortfall quickly.