Staunton, Dec. 27 – The Russian government has decided to allow Kazakhstan-flagged ships to use the Volga-Don canal to carry cargo between the Caspian and the Sea of Azov, a decision likely intended to tie Astana more closely to Moscow but one that will benefit China more than anyone else, Russian analysts say.
The decision by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin announced today will allow Kazakhstan ships to begin using the canal through Russian territory next year, but China will be the chief beneficiary because those ships will be carrying Chinese goods. Indeed, Beijing seems to be the demandeur in this case (tgclick.com/emphasises/6560 and iarex.ru/news/88185.html).
Not only has China been expanding its presence the Kazakhstan port of Aktau in order to send cargo westward but it has offered to help Russia widen and deepen the aging Russian canal, one whose siltification means that it can’t be currently used year around (rosmorport.ru/filials/asf_news_main/44253/).
Moscow is interested in getting such Chinese help because it has been using the Volga-Don canal to move vessels from the Caspian Flotilla to the Sea of Azov as part of its war against Ukraine (jamestown.org/program/moscow-shifts-flotilla-from-caspian-to-azov-sea-giving-it-a-new-offensive-capability/ and jamestown.org/program/moscow-moving-15-warships-from-caspian-sea-to-waters-off-ukraine/).
Indeed, problems with the canal have become so serious that there has been talk about building an entirely new canal between the two seas via the North Caucasus, an enormously expensive project that Moscow cannot afford and could not complete on its own anytime soon (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/shippers-hope-to-make-volga-don-canal.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/04/moscows-use-of-caspian-flotilla-against.html).
Consequently, what looks like a bow by Moscow to Kazakhstan and China may in fact be intended by the Russian authorities to give Beijing incentives to invest more heavily in the Volga-Don canal or in the construction of a new waterway, either of which would allow for using the Caspian Flotilla more easily.
That in turn means that what may look like an economic decision in fact will have enormous security implications for the entire region.