Apr 20, 2021
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From the Caspian to the Indian Ocean

In early April, in the south of the Suez Canal, as you know, the tanker Minerva Nike ran aground. With the help of two tugs, fortunately located near the accident site, the ship was quickly removed from the shallows. It continued on its way. At the same time, the movement of ships along the canal was not interrupted. In contrast to the previous case, when on March 23, an extra-large container ship with a length of 400 m crashed its bow into one edge of the Suez Canal, and sternly into the other, and closed it tightly. A traffic jam has formed, in which more than 400 ships are stuck. One third of them were tankers.

Traffic on the channel was blocked for a whole week. And, as we can see, there are no guarantees that this situation will not happen again. Two consecutive emergencies in the Suez Canal have put on the agenda a number of projects to bypass this extremely busy route. Among them, in terms of its scale, the project of the Russian-Iranian shipping channel Caspian – Persian Gulf, 750 km long, developed back in 1910, stands out. in the Russian Empire. Years later, in 1970-1990, Iranian specialists, together with Soviet ones, finalized the project.

The task, of course, is a daunting one, requiring considerable expenses. But, perhaps, the main obstacle to its implementation was opposition from the United States.

As noted in the 1980s and 1990s. some American and Middle Eastern media, Washington in every possible way contributed to the outbreak of war between Iraq and Iran in 1980. The Americans thus tried not only to prevent the military-political alliance of the anti-imperialist regimes of Iran and Iraq, but also to prevent the construction of the Caspian-Persian Gulf canal.

And what is important: the southern route of the project included transit through the Iraqi ports of Basra and Fao, adjacent to the Iranian inter-port area in the Persian Gulf – the ports of Abadan, Khosrovabad and Khorramshahr. It is they, these Iranian ports, that would close the southern sector of the canal. It cannot be ruled out that this circumstance was one of the reasons that the war, inspired from the outside, continued for almost 10 years.

In 1996, a specialized Iranian delegation visited the Volga-Don Canal and the Volga-Baltic Waterway. At the same time, negotiations were held in Rosmorrechflot on the possibilities of joint expertise of the Caspian-Persian Gulf project and its joint implementation. There is no exact official data on the solution of these issues, but, according to the available information, the Russian side agreed, at least, to participate in the expert examination of the project.

The development in 2018 by the Caspian countries of the agreed – new status of the Caspian basin eliminated legal obstacles to the construction of the canal. Its Caspian route will pass through the middle water area, where there are no national sea zones.

As for the project of the Iranian route, it is envisaged in western and south-western Iran – from the Iranian port of Anzali (South Caspian), then along the Sefidrud – Kerhe – Nahr al-Kakhla rivers with the confluence of the latter into the Shatt al-Arab. This is a wide (bordering with Iraq) river fairway for mixed river-sea vessels flowing into the Persian Gulf.

Such an artery will make it possible to form a through, moreover, the shortest Eurasian water transit route Baltic region / Scandinavia – Volgo-Balt – Volga – Caspian Sea – Iran – Persian Gulf / Indian Ocean.

From the point of view of access to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean, this waterway for Russia, as well as Eastern European, Transcaucasian countries, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan is more than half the length of the traditional water route.

That is, through the Turkish Bosphorus – Sea of ​​Marmara – Dardanelles, then through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea.

For example, here is the information of the analytical portal Invest-Foresight (RF) dated May 25, 2018: “In Iran, this project is called the“ Iranian River ”. Russia and, for example, neighboring Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan are vitally interested in the project. The countries of the Indian Ocean and even China also support the project and are partially ready to invest in its implementation. ” It is specified that Russia and Iran could implement this project, the cost of which is at least $ 10 billion. According to experts from the Iranian and Russian sides, these investments “will pay off within five years from the start of the operation of the canal,” and reach the Indian Ocean along this route “It will be possible twice as fast as through the Bosphorus – Dardanelles – Suez – Red Sea.”

As Sergey Gorbachev, executive director of the ANO Institute of CIS Countries (Sevastopol) notes, in his publication on June 9, 2020 on the portal (RF), “Tehran plans to implement a project of a canal between the Caspian and the Persian the bay. It is estimated that in the countries participating in the project, the total transport and storage costs on this route will be at least 20% less, per conventional ton of cargo, in comparison with the traditional route, ”that is, through the Bosphorus-Suez Canal. Moreover, Iran and Russia “will be able to increase their cargo transit income by 15 – 25%.” Since already “for the 6-8th year of operation of this route, the volume of traffic on it is forecasted at least 20 million tons in both directions.”

The assessment of this important artery by the famous economist Valentin Katasonov is also characteristic: “I.V. Stalin, when at the Tehran Conference of 1943 he met with the Shah of Iran M.R. Pahlavi. But Iran was heavily influenced by the United States. And in 1997, Washington warned Tehran that the most severe economic sanctions would be taken against any companies and organizations that dare to start building the canal. For this project will weaken the geopolitical influence of the United States. “

Let us clarify that Washington’s sanctions against this project (1997) also provide for tougher financial and economic pressure on Iran directly, if the construction of the canal begins. Nevertheless, according to V. Katasonov, “today favorable conditions are emerging for an active rapprochement between Russia and Iran.” And the expert believes that this rapprochement could be accelerated by the joint construction of the Caspian-Persian Gulf canal.

Meanwhile, due to the emergency that happened on the Suez route, the countries of the region are trying to restore the operation of five oil pipelines from Iraq and the oil countries of Arabia to the Mediterranean ports of Israel (Haifa), Lebanon (Sidon, Tripoli), Syria (Baniyas, Tartus).

Negotiations are being held by the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Iraq with transit Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Syria. The emphasis is on the additional income that transit supplies can bring.

In turn, the Iranian side offers Iraq to dock its oil pipelines with Western Iranian ones for the shortest exit of Iranian oil to the Syrian ports (Iraq, in other words, is connected by pipelines with the Syrian ports of Baniyas and Tartus). By the end of 2021, it is planned to bring to full capacity the Trans-Arabian oil pipeline with a length of 1200 km (Saudi Arabia / Qatar – Jordan – Lebanese port of Sidon).

This is one of the longest oil pipelines in the world. It was created in the late 1930s. All other similar arteries from the Middle East to the ports of the Eastern Mediterranean were built in the 1940s and early 1980s. Due to the fact that the operation of the Suez Route has never been considered stable.

For the Arabian region and Iraq, the named pipelines, in comparison with the route through the Suez Canal, more than halve the distance of oil transit to Europe and by almost a third to North America. But the constantly smoldering long-standing conflicts in the Middle East – political, interethnic, interfaith – are unlikely to be settled “in the name” of transit or oil export revenues. For the same reason, pipelines have stood idle for decades. Isn’t that fate awaiting further? Thus, the construction of a canal from the Caspian Sea to the Persian Gulf is driven by harsh geopolitical and economic realities.

This artery is capable of radically changing the geography of the Eurasian North-South-North freight flows, “ensuring stable transit revenues for Russia and Iran (no less than $ 160-200 million annually).

It can also provide many other countries with the shortest waterway to the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean connected to it (through the Strait of Hormuz). It is also important for us that this channel will allow Russia to eliminate its long-standing dependence on the Turkish-controlled Black Sea-Mediterranean route (Bosphorus – Sea of ​​Marmara – Dardanelles).

Artem Leonov

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