New Caspian Sea - Black Sea transport corridor is becoming a reality

Victoria Panfilova, columnist of Nezavisimaya Gazeta, specially for Vestnik Kavkaza
New Caspian Sea - Black Sea transport corridor is becoming a reality

A quadripartite expert meeting on the Caspian Sea - Black Sea International Transport Corridor project (ITC-CSBS) started on October 24 in Ashgabat with the participation of high representatives from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Romania and Turkmenistan, as well as the EU Contact Bureau, the press service of the Turkmen Foreign Ministry reported. A new transport route is being created on the basis of the Trans-Caspian and Lazurite corridors.

The initiators of the new transport route creation were Romania and Turkmenistan. Both countries have modern multimodal ports, which by and large stand idle. "Romania should use all the opportunities to turn its Black Sea port of Constanta into one of the important links of the transport and transit corridor connecting the Caspian and Black Seas," State Secretary of the Romanian Foreign Ministry Maria Magdalena Grigore said at the first meeting that took place last summer in Turkmenbashi. According to her, Constanta should become an EU point of transshipment of goods transported from the Turkmen port of Turkmenbashi, as well as from Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in the context of ensuring the access of goods from Turkmenistan and other Central Asian countries to European markets.

For Turkmenistan, this proposal is more than tempting. Ashgabat has long been exploring the possibility of transporting goods, including liquefied gas to Constanta. The supply route involves the use of special containers and runs through the Caspian Sea to Baku (Azerbaijan), then by rail to Batumi or Poti (Georgia, the Black Sea region) and from there by sea to Romania.

Recall that in early May 2018, an international multimodal seaport started to operate in the Caspian Turkmenbashi. The cost of the project implemented by the Gap Inşaat (Turkey) amounted to more than $ 1.5 billion. With its commissioning, the great opportunities have emerged for the shipment of cargo arriving at Turkmenbashi along the Silk Road route from Asia and the Pacific, and then to the European countries through the ports of Russia, Azerbaijan and Iran.

The head of the South Caucasus political club, Ilgar Velizade told Vestnik Kavkaza that at the meeting of the ITC-CSBS expert group in Ashgabat, the transport corridors that can interlock - the Trans-Caspian route and the Lazurite Corridor - were discussed rather than the new project. Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey are engaged in the Trans-Caspian route. The Lazurite Corridor involves Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. "Here we may speak of an adjacent route, which is designed for the implementation of the regional transit projects. Turkmenistan is a transit country connecting the Black Sea-Caspian Sea region with Afghanistan," Velizade noted. In his opinion, the new route will be primarily used for the transportation of the NATO cargos. "If we take into account that Romania is a NATO country, where the NATO infrastructure is in place, and Afghanistan is a country where NATO is actively engaged in its activities, then it becomes clear that the military-technical cargos for Afghanistan will become an integral part of this modified route,” the expert emphasized.

However, at the beginning of summer, Ashgabat was visited by the executive director of the US-Turkmenistan Business Council, Eric Stewart. At the talks with President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov, he declared the readiness of the American business to use the new international sea port in Turkmenbashi on the Caspian Sea within the framework of the bilateral trade and economic cooperation.

As for the transfer of the energy carriers, in particular, liquefied gas, as Ashgabat plans, it is much more complicated, the Azerbaijani political scientist believes. "Its cost, in the case of transportation by ferry and rail, across the two seas, increases significantly and becomes a very expensive pleasure for a European consumer. Therefore, I do not think that gas will become one of the main goods that will be transported along this artery. Most likely, the European goods will go along this route to Afghanistan, and in the opposite direction,  the products from Turkmenistan - cotton and some types of petrochemical products that may be in demand in the European markets. If we talk about the supply volumes, I don’t think that they can exceed 1 million tons. As there will not be a large load in the European direction, although the infrastructure that is being created in the region is designed to transport up to 10 million tons of cargo per year, "Velizade said.

However, Uzbekistan can become an active participant in this transport route. During the last visit of Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov to Tashkent, the agreements were signed concerning the transit of Uzbek goods through the Caspian Sea. Uzbekistan has long been interested in the Caucasian transport corridor and is seeking access to the ports of the Black Sea and further through the port of Mersin to the countries of the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev said that Uzbekistan is interested in using the infrastructure under construction and the ports of the Caspian Sea for the supply of Uzbek goods to European markets and in the opposite direction.

Tajikistan has a similar interest. In August this year, the President of Tajikistan, Emomali Rakhmon, visited Baku, where the issue of barter between the two countries as well as between the countries of the Caucasus region and Tajikistan was discussed. According to Ilgar Velizde, the Central Asian countries can still be potentially interested parties. On the other hand, the countries of the Black Sea basin - Turkey, Bulgaria, and Ukraine - can participate in this project along with Romania. But everything depends on how closely they interact with the countries of the Central Asian region and what arrangements there are between them.