New trade routes paving the way for an unprecedented development in international economic competition


Last Wednesday, Russia ran the first container train to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, via the eastern track of the North-South corridor, from the Chelyabinsk freight station through Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran to the Persian Gulf.

This move considered as an economic and geopolitical competition dominates which is the other form of current international competitions.

The new transportation routes are shaping Trading Theater in one of the biggest arenas of this competition, which is the Middle East.

In its endeavor to neutralize Western sanctions aimed at destroying the Russian economy, in order to stop its aggressive war machine against Ukraine, Moscow has worked to protect its economy by heading east, activating the international transport corridor north-south.

Although international competition in the geopolitical space is an old and familiar issue, its emergence in the electoral competition is a remarkable and new turn of event.

Also concerning Türkiye, its arena also witnessed at the recent Turkish presidential elections, as presidential candidate Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu excluded Azerbaijan from the railway link between Türkiye and China, in opposition to the policy of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

At that time, Kılıçdaroğlu mentioned Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, neglecting to mention Azerbaijan in his talk about the railway link network between Türkiye and China, known as the “Iron Silk Road”.

That Negligence met by the Azerbaijani President, Ilham Aliyev, by recalling that Azerbaijan is a major transport hub in Eurasia on the middle corridor between Europe, the Caucasus and Asia.

In turn, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan stressed the centrality of Azerbaijan in the Silk Road network, excluding Iran, which Kılıçdaroğlu proposed as a substitute for Azerbaijan.

Despite the strangeness of the electoral competition extending to the geopolitical arena, and exceeding what the Azerbaijani geography gives of a Turkish bridge to the Caspian Sea and to the countries of Central Asia, which are of historical and economic importance to Ankara, the most strange thing is the involvement of Iran, Türkiye’s regional rival in the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia, whether on the regional political leadership, or on top of the regional and international commercial link node and their competition for the title of regional energy reservoir.

Iran on the other hand, which was mentioned near and far, was a focal point in the Chinese project, but it was excluded from it as a result of the Western sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic, in addition to its non-membership in the Financial Action Task Force.

An economic one with geo-political origins and consequences.

The first train coming from China towards Europe passed through the Marmaray Tunnel in Istanbul, under the Bosporus Strait in November 2019, thus confirming the centrality of Türkiye and the Caucasus in the Silk Railway network.

So, what is this network and what is the importance of Azerbaijan in it?

The Moscow agreement in 2020 extinguished the flames of the battles between Azerbaijan and Armenia, however, the Iranian-Azerbaijani rivalry heated up, as it included a road linking the Azerbaijani mainland with the Azerbaijani Nakhichevan region on the Turkish border which includes a network of highways through Armenian lands, including a railway line, and thus opened the way for Ankara to the Caspian Sea and the “Turkish world”, causing Iran to lose its borders with Armenia, and thus the collision of its project for strategic commercial transportation and supply with Europe through Armenia with the “Zangezur” wall, which Tehran described as the “Turanian NATO” corridor, a designation that Tehran hopes behind to provoke China and Russia to participate, in order to confront it.

The so called Iron Silk Road is one of the links of the middle corridor connecting the Chinese and European capitals, and the latter is considered part of the Chinese “Belt and Road” initiative, which China adopted in 2013, in which it is investing about $40 billion in projects estimated at a total cost of more than $1 trillion, including infrastructure development and investments in 152 countries and international organizations in Asia, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas.

The line includes a railway extending from Kazakhstan to Türkiye, and the “Baku-Tbilisi-Kars” railway is a good link for trade relations between China and the European Union through the South Caucasus, as the railway witnessed an increase in the transportation of goods across it, in addition to having competitive prices for transporting containers in the direction Middle lane, across the Caspian Sea.

Accordingly, the neglect of Azerbaijan is a grave mistake made by the leader of the Turkish opposition, Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, which wasn’t his only mistakes he made during his election campaign that was according to many Turkish affairs experts cost him and the entire Turkish opposition the presidential elections which was somehow on their grasp.

Thus, the Turkish voters looks like freaked out from Kılıçdaroğlu’s orientations, policies, and propositions, which is why they preferred to keep and maintain the situation as it is without change.

There is fact that is clear that Azerbaijan is a very close ally of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, therefore the insanity and political blindness of the Turkish opposition candidate led the entire Turkish opposition to a catastrophic defeat in the last elections.

Ankara participates in the revival of the Silk and Spice Road, which starts with a train from Türkiye, through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan and ends up in China.

At the same time, it has several options for transporting commercial goods, and the “North-South” corridor, which activated recently, may give additional value to the Silk Road without conflict or harm to Turkish interests.

Adding to that, Türkiye and Iran are two regional countries and there is great regional and international competition between them, however, the western sanctions and pressures on the Islamic Republic of Iran have limited its influence, and made it more in need for Türkiye.

In financial aspects, Türkiye currently is an economic and financial outlet for Iran and for this reason Tehran won’t be able to bypass Ankara in the field of road networks for global trade.

On the other hand, the continuation of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict generated problems for the sustainability of the corridor linking China and Europe through the Russian and Ukrainian geographies, and out of these problems the Middle Corridor was born to connect London to Beijing through Türkiye, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Central Asia, as the shortest route between western China and the European Union.

As a result of the predominance of geopolitical factors over the commercial interests between Türkiye and Iran, Tehran is considered a strong competitor to Ankara in the countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus, given Iran’s position as an obstacle or a bridge to Türkiye’s access to these countries that have historical, ethnic and cultural ties with, which makes the “North-South” corridor a significant tool that can bring the two sides closer.

The “North-South” corridor is a land and sea transport project, linking India with Russia, via Iran and Azerbaijan, and from there to Europe.

Recently, Russia and Iran signed an agreement to implement the Rasht-Astara railway network, which is one of the western track links of the north-south corridor within Iranian territory.

However, contrary to what some believe, the “North-South” aims to remove Türkiye from the transport and supply maps from the countries of South and Central Asia to Northern Europe, or at the very least give Iran the upper hand in the projects of international transport and supply routes.

The fact that Azerbaijan is outside Turkish influence, and that it’s outside the Iron Silk Road, according to what Kılıçdaroğlu declared, created a shock for both Turkish and Azerbaijani sides, as Baku considered it a victory for its rival Armenia and a stab in the heart of Azerbaijan.

Kılıçdaroğlu promises bring Türkiye back to the Western lap and rejected expansion in the Balkans and Africa, but it turned 180 degrees towards rapprochement with Iran at the expense of removing Azerbaijan from the Turkish strategy, which constitutes a fatal step for the Turkish nation, which cannot bury the roots of the historical relationship with the Turkic-speaking countries.

In its flirtation with the transport, train to China, as the former Turkish Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure, Adil Karaismailoğlu described, that it will contribute to bringing his country closer to its goal of reserving a seat among the top ten economies in the world, as the file of transport and external communications occupies an advanced position in Turkish decision makers, taking advantage of their country’s geography as a link between Europe and Asia, which strengthens its position on the global land transport maps, contributing to its rise on the ladder of major regional and global economies.

On the other hand, Tehran seeks to compete with Ankara in this aspect, and by taking advantage of its position as well, as it is a transit bridge to Europe and a gateway to Central and South Asia to the Caspian, which leads to shortening the time, from the Iranian stand point, which adds the importance of Iranian geography to China’s access to the Arab World.

This direction adopted by some to explain the UAE shift towards Tehran and Ankara lately, especially since Türkiye has a pivotal role in transporting goods and energy, especially after the opening of the Istanbul water canal that connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Black Sea.

Despite the competition that Ankara faces from China, Russia and Iran in Central Asia, the Azerbaijani victory over Armenia at the 2nd Nagorno-Karabakh war in 2020, expanded the horizons of Turkish communication with the countries of Central, South and East Asia, but the question that arises here, beyond Iran to Armenia, is about the extent of the influence of the network.

Meanwhile the challenge ahead is to resolve the outstanding crisis between Türkiye and Azerbaijan on the one hand and Armenia on the other.

As failure is the master of the situation now, there is a need to reach a permanent agreement to end the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh region, at a time when Turkish-Armenian relations are witnessing slow, but steady developments.

Türkiye encouraged bilateral trade, and they seek together to open the border crossings between the two countries, and perhaps the presence of a prime minister Armenia, Nikol Pashinyan, at Erdoğan’s presidential inauguration ceremony earlier this month, and before that, Yerevan offered its sincere sympathy for Türkiye in the tragedy of the February 6th earthquake, and by connecting these dots we can for sure see a positive signs in order to reach for a huge commercial, economic and political sphere in the region.

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