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Jan 16, 2022
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Zelensky and Aliyev decided to bypass Putin from the southern flank

In the photo: President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference

In the photo: President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky during a press conference (Photo: Konstantin Sazonchik / TASS)

Kiev and Baku are discussing the creation of a transport corridor bypassing Russia. This was stated by the President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky following the results of negotiations with Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev. According to him, the system is designed to unite four countries: Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Moldova.

In turn, Aliyev said that Baku is ready to cooperate with Kiev in all areas.

Negotiations between Zelensky and Aliyev took place in the Ukrainian capital on Friday, January 14. As a result of the talks, the presidents signed six documents, including a joint statement by the heads of state, a memorandum on bilateral trade, food security and an agreement in the agricultural sector.

Earlier at a meeting with the Moldovan President May Sandu Zelensky announced plans to create a transport corridor between Kiev and Chisinau. “In the future, this corridor will shorten the path between the two cities to five to six hours, becoming the shortest route from the Central region of Ukraine to the countries of Central and South-Eastern Europe,” the website of the office of the President of Ukraine reports. However, at that time there was no talk of including Azerbaijan and Georgia in the system.

The question arises: what are they going to carry along this corridor and where? Another route from China to Europe? But it is cheaper, faster and more convenient for China to transport goods through Russia – with the help of the Trans-Siberian Railway.

There are, of course, options – through Central Asia, the Caspian, Transcaucasia, Turkey – the Trans-Caspian corridor. But what about Ukraine?

Firstly, it is simply inconvenient and expensive to reload cargo from the railway to ships and back several times. Secondly, Ukraine has already demonstrated its inability to carry out transit functions.

Recall that in 2016, after Russia broke off the FTA agreement with it, Ukraine tried to connect to the Trans-Caspian corridor, trying to compensate for the loss of the Russian market and maintain its position in the markets of other CIS countries. However, an experimental train sent from the Ilyichevsk seaport of the Odessa region to China, which was supposed to test the capabilities of the southern transport corridor that goes around Russia, ended up “lost” in the steppes of Kazakhstan, reaching its destination with a big delay.

Since then, no one has remembered such projects. And here again? But will China and Europe be willing to resort to the transit services of such unreliable partners as Ukraine? Or is it some kind of local project between Moldova, Ukraine, Georgia and Azerbaijan?

“Zelensky announced the creation of a transport corridor in a very streamlined manner, judging by his statement on this topic, these are still very preliminary plans,” notes Leading Analyst of the Agency for Political and Economic Communications Mikhail Neizhmakov.

– Among the documents signed as a result of negotiations between representatives of Ukraine and Azerbaijan, a separate agreement that would be devoted to such a transport corridor is also not mentioned. There are larger-scale transit projects in which both Ukraine and Azerbaijan participate, primarily Europe-Caucasus-Asia (TRACECA), but, judging by the context, Volodymyr Zelensky meant some kind of independent initiative.

Most likely, the main motive for Zelensky is to remind the domestic audience about the further prospects for the implementation of large infrastructure projects in Ukraine. It can be noted that one of the significant initiatives supported by Zelensky, which he periodically mentions as his achievement, is the Great Construction National Program, within the framework of which the country’s transport infrastructure is being modernized.

In particular, at the end of December 2021, the All-Ukrainian Forum was dedicated to this, at which Zelensky also spoke.

“SP”: And why is it Aliyev? Does he understand that this will irritate Moscow?

– Relations between Kiev and Baku are quite positive. At the same time, the Ukrainian side traditionally emphasizes that they are in a similar position with Azerbaijan – drawing parallels between the situations with Crimea and Donbass on the one hand and Karabakh on the other. So it was with Petro Poroshenko. In a similar vein, back in November 2018, for example, the Ambassador of Ukraine to Azerbaijan spoke Alexander Mishchenko. And more than a year before, in October 2017, the then Foreign Minister of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin, while on a visit to Baku, made similar comments on the Karabakh problem.

Among the steps in the same direction, one can recall how, during the visit of Petro Poroshenko to Azerbaijan in July 2016, he and Ilham Aliyev instructed the customs services of the two countries to agree on the admission to the territory of the partner country only of those goods from Nagorno-Karabakh and Donbass that are licensed Baku and Kiev. Therefore, new contacts between representatives of Ukraine and Azerbaijan are unlikely to surprise Moscow.

“SP”: As a result of the talks, the presidents signed six documents, including a joint statement by the heads of state, a memorandum on bilateral trade, food security and an agreement in the agricultural sector. Is there much trade between the two countries? What is new, that was not there before, they can offer each other?

– Among the topics touched upon at the talks that may be of practical interest to Baku and Kiev is the likely participation of Azerbaijani companies in the already mentioned “Great Construction” program, as well as Ukrainian ones – in infrastructure projects in Azerbaijan. Perhaps, similar projects were also meant in the territories in Karabakh, which came under the control of Baku as a result of the hostilities in the autumn of 2020 – as you know, Azerbaijan plans to continue to invest heavily in the construction of infrastructure in this zone. In addition, participation in privatization in Ukraine may be of interest to Azerbaijani business.

“SP”: Let’s go back to the corridor. A few years ago, Ukraine tried to “cling” to the Trans-Caspian corridor, bypassing Russia. It ended in nothing. Then, it seems, it became clear to everyone that Ukraine, as a transit state, has no prospects, doesn’t it?

– Perhaps, by raising the topic of a new transport corridor, Volodymyr Zelensky wants to attract additional attention of the European Union, or at least make it clear to the domestic audience that he is using every opportunity for this. For example, at the Eastern Partnership summit (both Ukraine and Azerbaijan are known to be among the participants in the initiative) in December 2021, they again spoke about the EU’s intention to invest about 2.3 billion euros (in accordance with the economic and investment plan, presented by the European Commission in the summer of the same year) to various projects in the countries participating in the initiative, including the development of transport infrastructure.

Probably, Zelensky makes it clear that he is ready to fight for support from the EU within the framework of such initiatives (including future ones), using any foreign policy events to draw attention to such projects.

– Create a transport corridor bypassing Russia? Zelensky globe drunk? – ironic political scientist Alexander Dudchak.

– He has to look at the map in order to guess that “corridors bypassing Russia” is a pointless exercise. Zelensky, and Poroshenko before him, had many great ideas. So many memorandums were signed. But things did not go beyond memorandums and agreements of intent. It will find support from Moldova under its current leadership, from Georgia, and even partly from Azerbaijan, but such projects are unlikely to be implemented.

They work according to the Olympic principle – what matters is not victory (the result), but participation (the process itself). He announces another win to please the people, and then everyone will forget. The population is busy not tracking the results of regular promises, but surviving here and now.

They would consult with Poland on the experience of “bypassing Russia.” Just a new lesson is available in the form of an empty pipe “Yamal-Europe”.

“SP”: If we talk about transport corridors, then, obviously, we mean the next project of the China-Europe route. Is China generally interested in Ukraine as a transit territory?

– China has a bitter aftertaste from Ukraine’s shocking demonstration of the lack of sovereignty in connection with the termination of the Motor Sich agreements at the urgent request of the United States. China may be interested in a lot of things in Ukraine, and it will try to squeeze out the maximum, and it is possible that, on occasion, it will want to take revenge.

“SP”: Does Europe consider it and has ever considered it as such?

– Europe can consider different options if it does not have to pay extra. And without the current initiatives of Ukraine, Europe has various transport corridors. But Europe is not something unified, many countries have their own views and approaches, their own reaction to Ukrainian initiatives, to cooperation with Russia.

“SP”: And besides China, can someone be interested? What else can be carried along a hypothetical corridor through Ukraine to Europe? Or is it a cabal between Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine?

— There are still many original ideas in Kiev. And in theory, many can join them. But all the news coming from Kiev is usually in the future tense. It is difficult to remember anything that could be said there – “we promised – we fulfilled”, “we did”, “we built”, “we launched” …

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