Aktau, Kazakhstan (PortSEurope) December 3 – It is China, again, that is emerging as an unlikely winner from the agreed direct link between Turkey and Azerbaijan, secured in the ceasefire deal between Azerbaijan and Armenia, that ended the “six weeks war” for the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh last month. The road link will follow the E002 road that is connected to Azerbaijan’s road network. In
turn, it is connected to the Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea ports of Baku and Aylat/Ailat. In Armenia, the E002 passes along the border with Iran, then entering the Azeri exclave of Nakhchivan, from where it connects to the Turkish road network and onwards to Europe. China recently opened another new transport corridor via Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan, and via the Caspian Sea towards the Black Sea port of Poti in Georgia. Now it can also use a road via Kazakhstan to Baku. Both roads are part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Both corridors bypass Russia as a transit country, which is a Chinese strategy. Due to lack of a railway link in Kyrgyzstan, the Chinese trains cargo from Uzbekistan has to be transferred to trucks and then again to trains in Uzbekistan. This costly multimodal (rail-road-rail) solution can be avoided via the new Azerbaijan-Turkey link with cargo being transferred to Kazakhstan Caspian port of Aktau and shipped to Baku or Aylat/Ailat. From Azerbaijan, Chinese cargo can transit also to Georgian port of Poti (and Batumi), which has well established cargo services across the Black Sea to Romanian port of Constanta (linked via a man-made channel to the Danube river and then via Austria all the way to Germany). Poti has also cargo links to Bulgaria’s Black Sea ports of Varna and Burgas. The big loser of both corridors is Russia, while the new link between Azerbaijan and Nakhchivan/Nakhichivan will deprive Iran of transit cargo fees. Practically all major roads in the region run north towards the Russian mainland. The new corridor will allow Beijing to engage deeper with the heart of the region – Uzbekistan. Another option for China is to make a better use of the Caspian Sea port of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan, sending cargo there via Kazakhstan and then again shipping it to Azerbaijan. The E002, part of the International E-road network, is a mountainous B class road that starts from the Turkish border with Nakhchivan and passes via a limited number of cities. Its use will give Turkey a land bridge to the rump of Azerbaijan, and in future a direct access to Azeri ports on the Caspian Sea. The Azerbaijan’s victory in the war gave it also a direct road link to Nakhchivan. Turkey was looking for such a strategic connection between its Black Sea port of Samsun and the Azerbaijan’s Caspian Sea port of Baku since the late eighties when Nagorno-Karabakh and its surrounding areas seceded from Azerbaijan and were taken over by Armenia during the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is a landlocked exclave of Azerbaijan bordering Armenia to the east and north, Iran to the south and west, and Turkey to the northwest. Until today Azerbaijan’s transport links to Nakhchivan were via Iran and a longer version via Georgia and Turkey. Now there will be a road link via Armenia that would allow direct transportation of goods between Turkey and Azerbaijan, and between the Turkish ports on the Black Sea and Azeri ports on the Caspian Sea, without crossing Iranian or Georgian borders. It is still unclear whether this corridor between “mainland” Azerbaijan and its exclave of Nakhchivan would involve any transfer of territory (between Armenia and Azerbaijan). Armenia would “guarantee the security of transport links, unimpeded movement of citizens, vehicles and cargo in both directions,” the ceasefire agreement said. According to media reports, the border guard units of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSS) will control this corridor. The agreement also states that “by agreement of the parties, the construction of new transport communications connecting the Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic and Azerbaijan’s western regions will be provided”. But it is not clear whether this is going to be a road only for Azeri vehicles and cargo and whether the road is going to be Azeri or Armenian territory. In case such a road is under Azerbaijan’s control, this is going to create a “legal border crossing wall” between Armenia and Iran. Under the deal, Azerbaijan will keep territorial gains made in the fighting that started on September 27, including the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave’s second largest and strategic city of Shusha/Shushi. NATO member Turkey, Azerbaijan’s main supporter and arms supplier, said the deal had secured important gains for its ally. Azerbaijan says it retook much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a 1991-94 war in which about 30,000 people were killed. The former Soviet republics – Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia (and even Armenia) – are fast becoming for China a strategic transit link to Turkey and Europe. This is at the expense of Russia and it is still unclear how Moscow will react to the new developments. Copyright (C) PortSEurope. All Rights Reserved. 2020.