A rather interesting event happened this spring. A motorcycle rally was held around the Caspian Sea under the motto “Caspian is the Sea of Friendship” at the initiative of the administration of the Astrakhan region of the Russian Federation. The Astrakhan delegation covered 5,000 kilometers along the entire coastline in 11 days. The participants of the rally visited the Republic of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Dagestan. The motorcycle rally has become a unique international project aimed at strengthening good neighborly relations with the Caspian countries.
It was quite remarkable that the governor of the Astrakhan region, Igor Babushkin, covered the entire route on a motorcycle. “We were fortunate to see with our own eyes the culture and life of the Caspian states where we received a warm welcome. I thank all the leaders of these countries and diplomatic departments for the warm reception. Without their personal involvement it would have been impossible to organize our rally. We have seen that the Caspian Sea is truly a sea of friendship, as well as a sea of joint projects and bright emotions,” he shared his impressions at the finish line. The governor added that after the motorcycle rally the partners are expected to start implementation of agreements reached during meetings with officials of the Caspian countries.
As evidenced by recent developments, the Caspian countries express greater interest in building long-term logistics chains by taking advantage of not only existing transport infrastructure but also by creating new cargo delivery routes.
It should be noted for the sake of truth that such approaches have not always dominated. One may recall that at the International Railway Business Forum “Strategic Partnership 1520” in Sochi in 2015 the author of these lines had a chance to talk with the then President of OJSC “Russian Railways” Vladimir Yakunin. During his presidency, similar forums for countries using 1520 mm gauge railways were held by the Russian side almost every year.
So, when asked how interesting a new railway line that had just been built at that time through the territory of three countries along the eastern coast of the Caspian Sea was for the Russian Federation, the chief Russian railways answered vaguely. “We instructed our specialists to make calculations, and their forecast was that there was no economic prospects for using this route,” Vladimir Yakunin said at that time.
The situation has changed dramatically just eight years after the unfavorable forecast by the competent high-ranking official. No one would now think of questioning the high efficiency of the Caspian network of railways. Russia not only welcomes and actively uses the Eastern railway bypass of the Caspian Sea through the territories of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan but also contributes to the establishment of a full-fledged railway corridor along the western coastline through Dagestan and Azerbaijan. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan has begun reaping the benefits of its far-sighted policy of creating multimodal routes, both along the North-South and East-West corridors.
It was not so long ago, at the international economic forum “Russia – Islamic World: Kazan Forum 2023” in Kazan, that the General Director of the Agency for Transport and Communications under the Cabinet of Ministers of Turkmenistan noted that his country works on development of procedures related to joining the agreement on the international transport corridor “North – South”.
The feasibility of such intentions was confirmed already in May of this year by a significant event for the railway system that is part of the North-South multimodal structure. The first container train departed from the Chelyabinsk-Gruzovoy station of the South Ural Railway. It proceeded through the territory of Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan to the port of Iran. Then, the containers with non-ferrous metals and food products were shipped by sea to India. And already this summer, the first Russian freight train heading to Saudi Arabia proceeded to Iran through the territory of Turkmenistan. The train with 42 containers departed from the Chelyabinsk-Gruzovoy station of the South Ural Railway and proceeded along the North-South international transport corridor through the territories of Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Iran. The train carried power equipment and non-ferrous metals. The cost of cargo transit along the North-South corridor has decreased almost twofold as a result of reduction of customs tariffs.
Thanks to its favorable geographical location, Turkmenistan today plays a key role in the development of the global supply chain, and the international transport corridor North-South is the most important link in this system. It is worth mentioning that over 30 years of the country’s independence there were built the Tejen – Serakhs – Mashhad, Ashgabat – Dashoguz, the above-mentioned Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran, Turkmenabad – Kerki railways along with railway lines to neighboring Afghanistan Kerki – Imamnazar – Akina – Andkhoy, as well as railway and road bridges across the Amu Darya river.
The global geopolitical situation that has undergone certain changes in recent years has made the Caspian topic very relevant in terms of development of international transport cooperation. It is no coincidence that at the summit of the heads of the Caspian states in Ashgabat in the summer of 2022 the presidents of the five countries paid special attention to the development of economic partnership in the region, and in particular, the transport and transit sector. In this regard, it was noted that the coastal countries have serious work to do on construction and modernization of port infrastructure, building effective logistics schemes to transform the Caspian region into a comfortable and modern space for international flows of goods and services that will not depend on the current political situation.
As it turned out, Turkmenistan, having a carefully thought-out national program of transport diplomacy in its hands, came proactively prepared to participate in the process of making collective decisions on the implementation of global transport agenda. The International Conference of Ministers of Transport of Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) in Ashgabat was among the important practical steps in the implementation of the national transport diplomacy program. This event was significant in terms of improving transit and transport cooperation between countries.
The Transport Conference produced recommendations and identified opportunities to improve transport infrastructure in landlocked developing countries; expand international support in transport; strengthen transport cooperation for LLDCs. The launch of a pilot project of the Global Transit Document was the most important result of the forum that was organized by the government of Turkmenistan under the auspices of the UN. Using the latest digital technologies, the project will help significantly speed up and automate international freight transport.
The program of development of Turkmen transport diplomacy until 2025 provides for strategically important measures aimed at comprehensive modernization of the material and technical base of all types of transport in the country, establishment of modern specialized infrastructure and further strengthening of Turkmenistan’s position as a regional center of international transport and transit corridors.
The program provides for the expansion of the legal framework of the transport sector and international cooperation in this area, preparation of the road transport code of Turkmenistan, continued cooperation with the UN, the International Federation of Freight Forwarding Associations, the International Air Transport Association, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Road Transport Union, the Organization for Cooperation of Railways, the International Maritime Organization.
Turkmenistan indisputably plays an important role in the development of international transport corridors. The country supports the use of international transport and transit corridors between Iran, Oman, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, between Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Turkey and Europe (Lapis Lazuli), the route China – Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Azerbaijan – Georgia – Turkey – Europe, the railway Kazakhstan – Turkmenistan – Iran and others.
Increasing its contribution to the development of these corridors, Turkmenistan is modernizing and expanding its infrastructure, building new railways and roads, highways, bridges, and upgrading the technical base of the transport complex. Turkmenistan is also expanding its network of international airports. Such airports now operate in the capital of the country, as well as in the cities of Turkmenbashi, Dashoguz, Mary, Turkmenabad and Kerki.
Other than increasing the number of passenger aircrafts, Turkmenistan also improves the efficiency of air commercial transportation. For this purpose, two Airbus A330-200P2F cargo aircrafts were purchased this year, replenishing the country’s cargo aircraft fleet. Such airliners are optimized for transportation of cargo of various configurations over long distances. Their flight range is more than 13 thousand kilometers, and they are designed to carry up to 60 tons of payload. Pilots and maintenance specialists for Airbus A330-200P2F cargo aircrafts were trained in Singapore and France.
One can say with confidence that Turkmenistan is proactively prepared for the global strategic line, and the country is now ready to use the benefits of its geographical location with maximum efficiency.