East-Caspian Express: the Stop “Verticals”

By Mikhail Agadzhanyan

During the visit of the President of Turkmenistan Berdymukhamedov in Kazakhstan (May 10th -11th) an opening of Kazakhstani-Turkmen part of the railway Uzen – Bereket – Gorgan took place. The accomplishment of the railway project of three-party character in recent years has been contradicting. The first terms of the railway commissioning in a finalized Kazakhstani-Turkmen-Iranian way was planned for the end of 2011. Then they were postponed till December last year. But the parties didn’t manage to fit the reconsidered time frames of the railway commissioning.


Deviation from terms, which were twice set by Ashkhabad and twice failed, were explained by Turkmenistan as sluggishness of Iranian company “Pars Energy”. It was responsible for the construction of the Turkmen part of the way (bereket – Etrek). In autumn 2012 Ashkhabad decided to refuse of the services of Iranian company and to promote the accomplishment of the project independently. This March Turkmen sources shared the information, particularly, that the President Berdymukhamedov gave an order to the government of the Republic to hold a purchase of special equipment for railways construction. According to the local Mass Media, British companies were involved into the supplies of the given machinery.


> Caspian Region Map


The complications in the accomplishment of the project have not crossed out its three-party nature and have not withdrawn the interest of Central Asian capitals to finish it. A few days before the opening of Kazakhstani-Turkmen part, the representatives of Iran expressed the intention to finish the construction of their part of the way by this summer. On May 5th the Minister of Roads and Municipal Construction of Iran declared, that soon in presence of the presidents of Iran, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan there shall be held the opening of a strategically important part Inche-Barun (Iranian province Golestan) – Gogran, which shall make Uzen-Bereket-Gorgan finalized.


Political and economic prospects of the project for the two Central Asian republics have been known since 2007, when the corresponding intergovernmental agreements were reached.


Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan get the access to the sales markets of supplied nomenclature south to them with the use of the ports of the Persian Gulf.


Transportation of cargos along the main road from Kazakhstani Uzen to Iranian Gorgan and further to the ports of the Persian Gulf reduces significantly the cost of transportations and saves times for their performance (the way is for about 600 km shorter than the acting way Beinau-Dashoguz-Turkmenabat-Tedzhen-Serakhs-Meshkhed).


Political aspect of dividends for Astana and Ashkhabad from the project is closely connected with the target of obtaining of additional approach points with the states of the region, multi-vector distribution of their political priorities. The positive side for Iran is about the very fact of the accomplishment of a relatively big trans-boundary project. Teheran is ready for the kind of regional transporting or energy projects, only to break the circle of isolation policy of West along the perimeter of own borders.


The project is interesting with its geopolitical context, outlining the prospect of formation of interstate connection along geographic vertical “North-South”. This vertical meets the interests of Russia and Iran, but faces the contra-projects of West, lying in another system of geopolitical coordinates.


West promotes “horizontal” projects, connecting Turkey and East Europe with South Caucasus and Central Asia. This system of coordinates includes the West-lobbied projects of Southern energy corridor, extension of the railway communication Kars – Tbilisi – Baku though till Turkmenbashi and Uzbek Navoi.  The construction of the new sea-port 65 km south to Baku (with the plans to transport through this port up to 20 mln tons of cargos annually by 2015), modernization of Kazakhstani port Aktau in the Caspian Sea comprise definite links in a chain of “horizontal” approach of Americans and Europeans within promotion of their interests to East.


The connection of Russia with Iran through Central Asia represents for Teheran a significant interest. Its strengthening along eastern coast of the Caspian Sea can create prerequisites for the approach of Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran within unsolved Caspian issue, as well as within the issue of provision of two Central Asian Republics with additional accesses to foreign markets.


By the way, the discussions of the railway project Uzen – Bereket – Gorgan during all the years of its problematic accomplishment together with the south way of Kazakhstani and Turkmen goods supplies included a northern direction of their access to foreign markets – along Russian territory to Europe.


According to the estimations of recognized players of the regional course of Iran, it is interested in search of those niches and projects, which present no interest for western investments in Central Asia (Mamedova N.M., Iran: Interests in Central Asia and Options of Influence // Security Challenges in Centкal Asia, IMEMO RAN, 2013). These projects include the way Uzen – Bereket – Gorgan, which does not fit the “horizontal” logics of geopolitical approaches of West in the region.


The experts also promise the focus on the provided for Iran possibility to use comfortably the extreme interest of Central Asia Republics in the establishment of a regional transport system. It is needed to Astana and Ashkhabad to overcome their isolation from sea-ways.


Obvious one of the real examples of a competitive struggle of foreign forces for the focus of the republics of Central Asia. The struggle includes generation of the ideas of trans-boundary projects with a significant geopolitical compound, and also which is the most important, going ahead of the rivals within the accomplishment of these ideas in practice.


Yet the connection “North-South” in the issue of finalization of Kazakhstani-Turkmen-Iranian railway project to operating trans-boundary main way has gone ahead of its opponents within the line “West-East”. But this can be turn to be only a tactical success. Although Astana and Ashkhabad, as well as Moscow are still affected by the limiting factor of ultra-problematic relations of Iran with west and closest allies of West in Near East. Negative precedent with Iranian company “Pars Energy”, as we may confidently suggest, has forced Central Asian capitals even more clearly to assess the options of independent establishment of contacts with Iran.


Translated by EuroDialogueXXI from politcom.ru