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Rethinking Armenian North-South Road Corridor: Internal and External Factors

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In contemporary Eurasian mainland there are three main integration developments: European Union (EU), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and One Belt, One Road (OBOR). The one of the main aims of these 2 programs and 1 initiative, which coincide with each other, is to develop transportation infrastructures. If we pay attention to this triangle, we will see that through its entire territory leading attendees are building land and maritime connections between Asia and Europe. The priority is given to developments of roads, railroads, ports, pipelines, digital interconnection, etc. As a result, the infrastructures of the states which are actively participating in these integration developments are emerging and they are strengthening their ties with the leading centers of these projects and initiative such as Germany, France (EU), Russia (EAEU), China (OBOR).

The other emerging Eurasian project “International North-South transport corridor”, which was initiated by Russia, India and Iran also strengthens its role in connecting Asia with the Europe, which through developing transportation infrastructure connects Indian Mumbai to Russian Moscow. These kinds of transport integration developments provide great opportunity to states, which are located in the center of Eurasian continent to connect their transportation infrastructures with the main corridors which are bridging East with the West and North with the South.

In one hand, Armenia is a member of the EAEU and in the other hand it strengthens its cooperation with the EU. Yerevan speaks also about its commitment to strengthen cooperation in the field of transportation with China in the framework of China’s OBOR initiative. It is worth mentioning, that for standing transit country in transportation corridors which unites different regions of the Eurasian continent, Armenia, at first must develop and modernize its poor developed transportation infrastructure. For this reason, Armenia is building 556 km North-South Road Corridor, which will start from Armenian-Iranian border and reach to Armenian-Georgian border.

In sum, Armenia will be able to be involved in the transport corridors which are connecting East to West, if it successfully finishes construction of its North-South road corridor. Building of the North-South Corridor will provide an opportunity to Armenia to strengthen its economy, security and geopolitical role. It is also worth mentioning, that the main aims of Armenian North-South program are fully correspondent with interests and philosophies of the UN Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East’s “Asian land infrastructure development program, ”China’s OBOR initiative, EU’s TRACECA, Russia’s lead EAEU, International North-South Transport Corridor (India, Russia, Iran, etc.).

The Internal and External Factors of the Armenian North-South Road Corridor

The Internal Factors      

Armenian North-South Road Corridor on both in internal and external levels will affect on further development of Armenia’s economic development. At first let’s discuss what kind of influence can have the implementation of this program on inner Armenian developments? It is worth mentioning that in the 21-st century, which is the era of globalization, free trade and movement, it is impossible to develop the economy of any country without constructing and modernizing transportation infrastructures of that state, which in turn must be connected with the international transport networks. Well developed, high-speed road networks play a crucial role in economic growth of every country, as they conduce to harmonize interconnected cooperation between different spheres (industry, agriculture, etc.) of economy. Meanwhile, the absence or bad condition of the roads increases transportation charges, rises unnecessary loss of time. These circumstances, in turn, have a negative impact on the final formation of the product price. Thus the final construction and  exploitation of the North-South road corridor will make it’s important contribution on Armenia’s economic growth, as Armenian business companies, which are spread from South to North will be able to use this transport corridor and improve cooperation with each other, they will be able to easily transport their goods to the markets of the other cities and villages, the prices of the transportation will go down  and the movement of people will also stand easy, in turn it will simulate the development of internal tourism. The above-mentioned conditions will foster the development of Armenian economy, as a result new working places will be opened. Armenia will stand more attractive for the foreign investors.

The implementation of the North-South road corridor will also increase security of Armenia. It is worth mentioning, that for the victory in the contemporary wars, one of the main important factors is the fast movement of military units and equipment and in this context North-South will strengthen Armenia’s security and combat readiness of the Armenian Armed Forces. Thus, taking into consideration aforementioned facts it is very important to support to implement this project, increase confidence in Armenian society and among the members of the International society.

The External Factors

It is true, that some transport infrastructures are being built in the neighboring regions of Armenia, but it is worth mentioning, that because of the policies of some regional powers, Armenia is not involved in some of these projects (for instance Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway), they are bypassing Armenia. This is a challenge against Armenian national security and Armenia must take appropriate steps for not being isolated. Thus, Armenia must finish construction of the North-South road corridor and through it to join the international road networks.

As we have mentioned in Eurasian mainland there are two integration projects-EU and EAEU and one integration initiative-OBOR. Every, has its own component for development of the transportation communications. Due to the aims of these integration developments, the economies of Asian states will be connected to Europeans. If Armenia to finish its North-South road corridor, it will get an opportunity to be involved in OBOR’s Silk Road Economic Belt’s China-Central Asia-West Asia economic corridor, it will strengthen its role in the EU’s TRACECA and in the other international transportation networks. It is also worth mentioning, that the implementation of Armenian project coincides with the aims of the main players of the Eurasian mainland-EU, EAEU and China, as it will stand the other bridge, which will connect Europe with Asia. I do believe that implementation of the Armenian North South transport corridor is fully correspondent with the interests of the EU, EAEU and China as well. If we also consider the International North-South Transport Corridor which aims to connect Mumbai with Moscow, we can come to conclusion that Armenia can integrate its North-South road corridor in it, as one of the main players in this program is Russia, I do believe that Yerevan’s strategic ally-Moscow will be also very interested in involvement of Armenian infrastructure in this program, additionally, it is worth mentioning, that Armenia has also normal relations with India and Iran.

It is true, that for now Armenia has not good relations with Turkey and Azerbaijan, but sooner or latter the problems between neighboring states must be solved. If Armenia builds its North-South Road Corridor it will get an opportunity to increase its role in the region and offer its transport infrastructure to regional and non-regional players, also connecting its roads with the international transport network.

Conclusion

In sum, the North-South road corridor is very important project for Armenia as it will help to grow Armenian economy, will strengthen its security and will increase geopolitical role of Armenia in the region. Thus, Armenians in Armenia and Diaspora must be interested in building this road corridor with united efforts.

The construction of the North-South Corridor will have its spillover on developing different spheres of the science in Armenia affiliated with road construction, as this corridor is being built with the modern technologies and many international leading companies from different countries are participating in the implementation of this project, thus Armenian specialists and companies work with them getting great opportunity to improve their knowledge and experience, which further they can already use in construction of other roads in  Armenia and abroad.

Armenian North-South road corridor, which is being constructing under the leadership of “Transport Project Implementation Organization” State Non-Commercial Organization,  will stand the other bridge which will connect Asia with Europe and it will strengthen security of transportation networks and interconnection between Europe-South Caucasus-Middle East-Far East, as a result it will have great impact on the economy of the South Caucasus and will have its own contribution on peacebuilding. It is worth mentioning that Armenian North-South Road Corridor has a cooperative character and it is open for every representative of the International society. The Construction of the Armenian North-South road corridor is the best example of multilateral cooperation between different nations, as in the building of this important regional corridor companies from China, Spain, France, Italy, Iran and several international institutions as Asian Development Bank, World bank, European Investment Bank, European Bank of Reconstruction are attending. It is also open for the new partners as the construction of the 4-th tranche of the road will start soon.

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Eastern Europe

China Still Ambivalent About the Middle Corridor

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Image Source: Mbkv717/Flickr

Despite the oft-touted momentum behind the Eurasian Middle Corridor circumventing Russia, China still appears not to be fully behind the project beset by geopolitical challenges and infrastructure hurdles.

Overlapping Interests

Russia’s war on Ukraine has been a game-changer for Eurasian connectivity. The route through north Eurasia running from China to Europe that served as a major conduit between the two is now less attractive as a result of the Western sanctions imposed on Moscow. China-EU shipments along the Northern Corridor have decreased by 40 percent according to data from October 2022. This new reality serves as a major incentive for finding alternative routes.

It is rare in geopolitics that so many states in such a short timeframe would agree on advancing a certain project. The Middle Corridor, connecting China and Europe via Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Black Sea, is a good example of a vision where different countries from across Eurasia have accelerated the work not only on promoting the idea, but also laying the ground for its expansion.

In the months following the invasion of Ukraine, the EU has re-invigorated its policies toward the wider Black Sea region and has actively engaged Central Asia through high-level visits, pledging economic and political support. No longer willing to trade with China through Russia, Brussels is now pushing for the expansion of the Middle Corridor.

Small nations along the Corridor, too, have upped their diplomatic game. Leaders of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Central Asian states have grasped the emerging opportunity and begun inter-state cooperation through bilateral visits and the signing of memorandums on the minimization of tariffs and border crossing hurdles.

The effects of such cooperation are already evident. Indeed, emerging connectivity opportunities push the governments to reconsider their previous position on long-stalled projects such as the Anaklia deep sea port in the case of Georgia or the China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan railway, which the cooperating states pledged to begin work on in 2023.

Then, there is Turkey. Seeing an opening in the region, Ankara has increased its outreach to Central Asia already following Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in 2020. Effectively the initiator of the Middle Corridor idea back in 2000s, Turkey is now arguably one of the critical players driving the concept. A series of “block train” transports were initiated in recent years, traversing the corridor. In February 2021, a train reached China from Turkey’s eastern provinces after nearly twenty days of transit. In April 2022, another train was dispatched via the same route. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Kazakh colleague Kassym-Jomart Tokayev commended during their summit in Ankara in 2022 “the growth of cargo transit via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad and the East-West Middle Corridor.” Moreover, the two sides “stressed the importance of strengthening coordination between the relevant institutions for the effective and sustainable use of the Middle Corridor.”

Yet, one critical player– China – is largely missing. Beijing has rarely commented on the Middle Corridor and Chinese analysts write exceptionally little on the issue. Most importantly, Beijing has invested very little in the actual development of the corridor.

Significant Constraints

China’s reticence so far can be explained by pure pragmatism. Of course, there is a major imperative for Beijing to find alternative routes as transit through Russia becomes problematic. In that regard, the Caspian Sea and the South Caucasus indeed constitute geographically the shortest link to Europe.

Yet, the route is not an easy one – it is multimodal, i.e. consists of both sea lines and land routes and crosses multiple countries which have made little effort to synchronize their transit capabilities and develop infrastructure before 2022.

Currently, there is close to no joint tariff coordination, effective inter-governmental dialogue and adequate infrastructure to process the throughput which has been shipped through Russia. For instance, lack of infrastructure in the Caspian Sea prevents convenient transit from Central Asian ports to Azerbaijan. Similar troubles beset the Georgian side of the Black Sea, especially as there is no deep sea port. The construction of the Anaklia port was postponed due to political infighting in the country with new construction plans only recently announced. In 2022, the Middle Corridor could only absorb 3-5 percent of the China-EU trade, which limits Beijing’s interest in the route.

Finally, geopolitical factors, such as instability in the South Caucasus, have contributed to making the Middle Corridor not as attractive for China as it might seem on the first sight. Russian influence is a primary factor. Despite Russia’s current weakness and incrementally growing dependence on China, the latter will have to carefully measure how Moscow will be responding to the development of a route which circumvents it from the south, in the region where Moscow has four military bases.

Kremlin could potentially rupture the connection both politically and through the use of more radical measures if deemed necessary. Much will depend on how Moscow fares in Ukraine. Perhaps a victory might even embolden it to prevent the corridor from materializing. But even if defeated or bogged down in a protracted war, Russia’s behavior will remain unpredictable, keeping China at unease.

From the South Caucasus, the Middle Corridor continues to either the Black Sea or Turkey. The former is currently a war theater, with chances for peaceful implementation of the corridor quite limited. This leaves China with Turkey.

Ankara and Beijing have promoted inherently competing visions of Eurasian connectivity. There were even hints that Turkish and Chinese influence clashed in Azerbaijan, which limited China’s engagement in the expansion of the Middle Corridor. After the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, the situation seems to have changed and Turkey and China have opened more active talks on cooperation along the corridor. For instance, China-Turkey Communication Forum was held in September 2022, focusing, among other things, on synergizing the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with the Turkey’s Middle Corridor. Yet, the pace of cooperation remains slow with little practical steps taken so far.

Looking Ahead

China might eventually grow interested in the re-invigorated Middle Corridor as a part of a hedging strategy. As was the case with silk roads in ancient and medieval times, trade corridors rarely remain static. They constantly adjust to emerging opportunities and evade potential geopolitical dangers. In the same vein, China’s massive BRI is far from stationary, but constantly evolving and adjusting to varying circumstances instead.

Although the South Caucasus and the Caspian Sea have not featured high in the BRI documents published by Beijing, the region can rise to rank higher among Chinese interests amid a new emerging geopolitical reality. This is especially the case if Russia grows even more sidelined in Eurasian geopolitics and Beijing realizes that betting on Russia long-term is a dead-end.

Author’s note: first published in chinaobservers

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Eastern Europe

A turning moment in Ukraine Crisis

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Germany’s decision to send tanks to Ukraine is a major moment in the Ukraine Crisis. It will have a far-reaching impact and may turn it into World War III. It is a tradition of the US to gang up to counter its adversaries. Iraq war, Libyan attacks, Syrian aggression, and the Occupation of Afghanistan, all were the result of allied forces, the US has the skills to make allies in addition to NATO and achieve its political objectives.

The US lobbies against its adversaries, and use all dirty tricks including media to malign its adversaries. They mislead the public and level the ground for the next stage – armed intervention. Looking at US interventions in any part of the world, you may conclude a similar approach.

Ukraine is also no exception. The US was preparing grounds for this crisis for a long and dragged Russia into it. Including Ukraine in NATO, was a red line for Russia, but, deliberately, this path was chosen to spoil global peace.

After failing all negotiations, Russia was left with no option except launch a special military operation on the same line as the 2014 Crimea operation. It was just a limited operation and should have been over after securing Russian borders only.

Unfortunately, the US had different intentions and trapped Russia in Ukraine and a full-scale war started. It was purely American war against Russia, but, as usual, America ganged up with NATO and also sought assistance and support from friendly countries.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced the move on Wednesday, bowing to intensifying international pressure – led by the United States, Poland, and a bloc of other European nations, which called on Berlin to step up its military support and commit to sending their sought-after vehicles. The influx of Western tanks into the conflict has the potential to change the shape of the war. The shipments are a breakthrough in the West’s military support for Kyiv, signaling a bullish view around the world about Ukraine’s ability to reclaim occupied territory. Crucially, they may allow Ukraine to take the fighting to Moscow’s forces and re-capture more occupied land, rather than focusing primarily on beating back Russian attacks.

The US has increased its defense budget and military aid to Ukraine. It is aimed to attack Russia, not limited to liberating Ukraine only. It will prolong the war and let Russia bleed for longer.

Participation of Europe in conflict may worsen the situation and may harm Europe more. Although there are public rallies, protests, and agitations in major cities in Europe to end the Ukraine war or at least oppose Europe’s active participation. Some were chanting slogans to leave NATO. It seems the public understands the consequences but the rulers are blindly following US policies. It might create a rift between the public and rulers.

Blunders made by rulers, but, the price is being paid by the public, in the form of inflation, hikes in the price of fuel, energy, food, etc., are a common phenomenon all over Europe. The danger of spreading the war is at high risk.

Imagine, if Russia also seeks assistance from its allies and gangs up to conform to NATO aggression, it will be certainly a Word War III. Today, the World is obviously polarized and blocks are emerging rapidly.

It also can turn into nuclear war too. The 8 declared nuclear states have enough piles of nuclear weapons to destroy the whole world completely. It is scaring scenario.

But despite knowing the consequences, no one is taking any initiative to end the war and seek political solutions to the crisis. The US is not interested in the peaceful resolution of the disputes and Europe is blindly following America.

It is urged that the UN may intervene proactively and initiate a dialogue to reach an acceptable solution for all stakeholders. Unbiased, non-partisan nations may come forward to initiate peace dialogues. All peace-loving countries and individuals may act proactively and struggle to end the Ukraine crisis. Satisfying all concerned parties may achieve sustainable peace and avert any big disaster.

Humankind is the most precious thing in this universe and must be respected. Value human lives, save human lives, and without any discrimination protects human lives across the board all over the globe.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuanian society is left shaken by plans to raise retirement age

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This month Lithuanian society is left shaken after spreading the news about the increasing of the retirement age. In Lithuania, the retirement age has increased every year since 2012 and by 2026 it will be 65 years. Previously, discussion surfaced on whether raising the retirement age to 72 would help offset Lithuania’s ageing population issues.

As Lithuania’s demographic situation continues to worsen, the European Commission estimates that the number of working-age people capable of supporting pensioners will go down in the future. Brussels says that increasing the retirement age could be a solution.

The existing average in Lithuania is now 57.5 years. It should be said that Lithuania expects to reach a life expectancy of 65 years only in 2030.

In some years there will be 50 retirees per 100 working people and it will have crucial implications for public finances and may require raising taxes. At the moment, 35% of the country’s population are aged over 55.

Before prolonging its working age, Lithuania should address the relatively poor health and low life expectancy of its population. Before they even reach retirement age, many people in Lithuania are unable to work due to high prevalence of chronic, non-infectious conditions.

It’s necessary to focus on increasing healthy life expectancy in Lithuania, instead of weighing up the idea of increasing the retirement age, Irena Segalovičienė, presidential adviser has said.

Taking into account the fact that men in Lithuania live an average of 14 more years from the age of 65, and women an 18 more years, Vilnius residents are not impressed with such an idea.

The officials are afraid of possible protests which could lead even to the government resignation.

Thus, late Thursday afternoon millions of French workers were still on the streets protesting against President Emmanuel Macron’s planned pension reforms.

Lithuanian officials were quick to announce that it’s inadequate to consider a 7-year increase in the retirement age at this stage. Most likely, the news was deliberately disseminated in order to study public opinion on this issue.

Discussion is most toxic now, and will continue in Lithuania because wasting money on defence, government puts aging population at risk of poverty and death.

At the same time, the government calls for more defense spending. Together with Poland and the UK, Lithuania is leading a push within the NATO to agree to higher spending goals. In 2023, the country’s national defense budget will reach 2.52% of its gross domestic product (GDP). According to Zilvinas Tomkus, Lithuania’s vice minister of defence, Lithuania is ready to spend even more on the modernization of its armed forces and military infrastructure. The more so, spending money on defence procurement today will not improve Lithuania defence today. The modernized weapons, vehicles and equipment will be available only in some years while old Lithuanians need money right now just to survive.

Thus, chosen political priorities do not reflect the current social and economic situation in the country and even worsen it.

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