Russia, China & India – Working together in Afghanistan

By Pranay Sharma

While world leaders debate whether or not to engage with the Taliban-led leadership in Afghanistan and how, Russia seeks to reassure its longtime partner India that New Delhi’s perspective matters.

Just recently Russian President Vladimir Putin met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. To assess the situation in Afghanistan. The leaders agreed to create a joint group of representatives of the foreign policy departments and the national security sphere.

Russia appears to be in no hurry to recognize the Taliban *. Moscow will share its assessment of the situation with New Delhi as soon as it is held.

The capture of Kabul by the Taliban opened the way for Russia and China to expand their influence in South and Central Asia. Both countries, as well as Qatar, which maintains good relations with Taliban political leaders, have not closed their embassies in the Afghan capital, while the United States and its allies, as well as India, hastily seek to evacuate their staff.

New Delhi’s influence on the Taliban is small, given India’s deep suspicions of an Islamist group, which it accuses of harboring militants who carried out attacks in Kashmir, which it controls, with the encouragement of the country’s nemesis, Pakistan.

Earlier this month, Russia convened an “enlarged three” meeting in Doha with the US, China and Pakistan to discuss the future of Afghanistan, but India was not invited.

The Taliban owe nobody for their victory

“Everyone is rushing about right now, trying to figure out how to protect their interests,” says PS Raghavan, former chairman of India’s National Security Advisory Council. However, according to him, it is not easier for Moscow and Beijing to deal with the Taliban. Although both countries supported the US withdrawal, he adds, “The Taliban owe neither China nor Russia for their victory.”

Indeed, while China has offered to help rebuild Afghanistan, it is concerned that extremism will spread to Xinjiang, the country’s northernmost province. On Wednesday, Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping held a telephone conversation to discuss the security situation. Xi told Putin that Beijing is willing to work with other countries, including Russia, to push all parties in Afghanistan to create an inclusive political structure cut off from terrorist groups.

Dmitry Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, believes that Russia views China and India as its two main strategic partners. India and Russia define their ties as a “special and privileged strategic partnership” and meet regularly to engage in trade, energy, science, technology and culture.

However, Indian observers also point to Moscow’s warmer relations with Beijing as a source of concern for New Delhi. Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov characterized the Quadripartite Security Dialogue (Quad), which includes the US, India, Australia and Japan, as “anti-Chinese” and called it an American ploy to shield New Delhi from Moscow’s influence. Then Indian observers noted that he was silent about the threat that China poses to India, because these countries are involved in a border dispute.

In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations

“In the modern world, there is no exclusivity in relations. We can talk about Russia and China, and they will talk about India and the United States, ”says Raghavan, who served as ambassador to Russia in 2014-2016. India, he adds, will have to control bilateral relations in such a way that they do not affect the core interests of other relations.

New Delhi’s concerns about Moscow’s commitment to their partnership increased when Russia took part in a large-scale joint military exercise with China in the Ningxia region earlier this month, using Su-30SM fighters, motorized rifle formations and air defense systems.

This move has caused bewilderment in Delhi, and not only because Moscow is the main supplier of military equipment for India and provides 55% of its military needs. The joint exercises took place against the backdrop of a year-long military clash between China and India in Ladakh.

Deependra Singh Hooda, a retired lieutenant general and former chief of the Indian Army’s Northern Command, said the joint exercise was “intended for the United States, not India.” In his opinion, fears that China will learn about India’s military equipment are unfounded, since most of the equipment supplied by Russia is the same for both sides. “It is wrong to feel oppressed by such teachings,” added Huda.

Moscow tried to facilitate dialogue between Dely and Beijing

Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary who served as Indian ambassador to Moscow from 2004-2007, says Russia has been supplying advanced military equipment to China for many years and has also conducted military exercises with Pakistan. Joint exercises are also conducted within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s security group, in addition, Russia has conducted naval exercises with China in the Mediterranean and Black Seas. As noted by Sibal, Russia also conducts annual military exercises with India. “There is no reason to be particularly worried about these joint military exercises,” he adds.

According to the head of the Carnegie Trenin Moscow Center, Moscow also tried to facilitate dialogue between Delhi and Beijing last year, but the Ladakh dispute is a sovereign issue between the two countries. “Russia will never unite with China against India, it is a completely reliable partner of India,” he said.

According to former national security adviser Raghavan, a guaranteed supply of spare parts for military equipment is better than joint exercises. When China wanted Russia to suspend supplies to India during a border clash, he said, Moscow calmly signaled that it would continue its supplies.

Unlike the Cold War era, Trenin says, India-Russia relations are not exclusive, as India has moved closer to the United States in recent years, which sees Russia as a rival and imposes sanctions on it. India took part in joint naval exercises with the United States as part of the Quad, he said, and while Russia may not like it, it did not question New Delhi’s right to choose partners. “In the changing geopolitical and strategic environment of the 21st century, Moscow and Delhi need to learn to develop their valuable strategic partnership in a non-exclusive manner,” Trenin said.

Most of India’s military equipment is of Russian origin

According to the Washington-based Stimson Center, 86 percent of India’s military equipment, weapons and platforms are of Russian origin, from aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines to tanks deployed in Ladakh. The Su-30MKI fighter, the backbone of the Indian Air Force, is also of Russian origin, while the Indian supersonic cruise missile BrahMos, capable of carrying a nuclear charge, was developed with Russia.

The US is also supplying India with military equipment, such as Apache and Chinook helicopters and M777 howitzers deployed in Ladakh, as well as Boeing C-17 and C-130J aircraft, which provide the Indian Air Force with strategic airlift capability. The US-made P81 anti-submarine aircraft is also popular with the Indian Navy.

According to the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), India was the second largest arms importer in the world in 2015-2019. Although New Delhi has diversified its defense sources, making Israel and France the main suppliers as well, Russia remains at the top of the list.

According to the SIPRI database, since 2014, Russia has sold $ 9.3 billion worth of defense materials, and the United States received $ 2.3 billion for similar goods over the same period. Since 2000, deliveries from Russia have accounted for more than two-thirds of India’s total $ 51 billion defense imports.

According to Trenin, Russia does not have a monopoly on the sale of military equipment to India, and New Delhi has been diversifying its defense imports for many years. “However, a defense relationship is a matter of mutual trust, like treating a friend you can trust in times of crisis,” he said.

US withdrawal from Afghanistan – Leonid Ivashov

A shameful flight or a move in a big game?

Leonid Ivashov and Igor Shishkin on what is behind the US defeat in Afghanistan. What are the consequences of the change of power in this country can have for Russia and the world. Why Afghanistan is called the solar plexus of Eurasia.

I. Shishkin: Leonid Grigorievich, this is the first question I have for you in connection with what happened in Afghanistan: the flight of the United States is very much reminiscent of what happened in Vietnam, they are talking a lot about this now, showing some footage, drawing parallels. And the question for you, in fact, as a specialist is to understand what is behind such an escape? Or they are deliberately doing this in order to provoke chaos in this territory, which will engulf its neighbors, China, Iran, Pakistan and Russia. Or, secondly, the United States really could not otherwise hold on to the situation. According to some experts, the United States has demonstrated by such a flight that it is a fading power, they say, there can be many ambitions, but not so many abilities.

Leonid Grigorievich Ivashov. Russian military and public figure, colonel general. Specialist in the field of geopolitics, conflict management, international relations, military history. President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems.

L. Ivashov: Igor Sergeyevich, I generally exclude “flight” from my vocabulary when assessing the actions of the Americans. Let’s think about why the Americans are organizing their military presence, for some reason we think, since they have come, then they will put things in order there, make the population happy, stabilize the situation, and so on. Alas, Americans do not go anywhere for this purpose. They came there to take control of this very important geostrategic region. Afghanistan is the solar plexus of Eurasia, as it is called. Here is an access to powerful states, even civilizations, for example, like China. They once deliberately did this, their nuclear missile test site. Plus access to Pakistan, which has good relations with China lately. There is also an exit to India, then Iran, and so on.

In general, this is a very important region of the world, especially for Eurasia. The Americans built an airfield there, they came to influence the former Soviet, Central Central Asia, to influence Iran, India and so on from here. How to influence? Not only where to carry out some kind of military provocations or special operations, but to influence the maintenance of uncontrollable chaos. Let’s not forget that it was with the arrival of the Americans that drug trafficking increased, because this is the impact on your opponents through drug flows. Americans leave from wherever they go, they stay when they leave. 

So I, while still in the service for several years, noticed that they are campaigning, including among Afghans, in Russia, luring people to their territory in the United States. Moreover, there they are given appropriate education, training, and so on. The question is: what for? This is the preparation of the fifth column, or you can call it whatever you like. They stirred up, created this powerful Taliban movement and calmly leave, they were not even touched at the airport. And now, when they leave, they say, they say, you are going to clean up now. They armed, in fact, this population, everyone lives with some kind of weapon, created these warring groups and left. Further, we see that it is not the Americans who are alarmed now, but precisely the neighboring countries are alarmed. Therefore, to consider it a defeat or flight is, well, at least premature. that it is not the Americans who are alarmed now, but the neighboring countries are alarmed. 

I. Shishkin: This raises the following question then. You say that they came there not to make happy, not to deal with international terrorism, but they came in order to create a lot of trouble for their geopolitical opponents. But, doesn’t this mean that they were still unable to keep Afghanistan? After all, it was probably more profitable for them not to plunge into chaos, but to create powerful bases there, from which they could threaten China, for example, India and Russia, Central Asia and so on.

L. Ivashov:I think that all of this in the aggregate was at the same time and was planned. There is a continuous war, of course, the population is tired, the population wants peace, and I believe there will be peace. But, Americans, look where they just did not conduct these military actions, the same Iraq, Yugoslavia, in Libya. And then they calmly leave, therefore, did they try to stay there? Yes, of course, they would like to have military bases there, and so on, because they have already begun to build airfields there. It was not even Biden who decided this, it was even under Trump that it was decided that the troops would withdraw. 

You need to understand that the nature of this war has changed. And then, let’s see who’s coming there now? Turkey is paired with Qatar, it goes there. We are talking about the current moment, some of the Syrian militants were not accidentally transferred there, although the Afghans themselves are against the presence of other countries in general. China and Pakistan, for example, they also act in pairs, they were very interested in the Americans leaving. But, China is very powerful there, let’s face it. You can’t see it, nothing, but it is present, because China needs a stable and calm Afghanistan. But the Anglo-Saxons learned to do well, not to be present by military force, but to be present in a different way. 

Well, for example, we saw Syria, in Syria the Americans were little present, but look what movements they created there. They were in the shadows, but at the same time they created very powerful movements. We wish, of course, stability to be there. But, the question arises: will different groups of the Taliban start fighting among themselves tomorrow? And will they not create some other movements with American money that will fight against China and others, for example. they were very interested in the Americans leaving. 

I. Shishkin: Considering that the United States absolutely does not need “one belt, one road”, they are very interested in such a development of events.

L. Ivashov: Let’s see, God forbid, that this happens. But, experience suggests that the Americans, it seems, were not present somewhere militarily too strongly, but the states are gradually being destroyed. And it is not known how long such cases will last, because they are always and everywhere.

I. Shishkin: That is, to paraphrase the famous phrase that Great Britain has no eternal enemies, no eternal allies, but only eternal interests, then we can say that the Anglo-Saxons are guided by that there are no eternal victories and eternal defeats. After all, each victory will then turn into a defeat, but this defeat can be turned into a victory.

L. Ivashov: It was recorded that British intelligence spoke about its tasks, they say, that the Arabs should fight against the Arabs for our British interests.

I. Shishkin: One more question: nevertheless, the interest of the Americans is understandable, they are masters of organizing chaos in their own interests, but what about the regimes? They left Saigon, what they were creating collapsed instantly. They did not have time to leave Afghanistan completely, the regime they created collapses instantly. Vietnam still exists, for example, Cuba still exists, even though we left. It turns out that the regimes they create collapse instantly as soon as the bayonet disappears, and the regimes that we created exist and are very stable.

L. Ivashov: Well, they really consider Vietnam their defeat there. But, they know how to benefit from defeats, and then the same Middle East, stirred everything up there, brought some regimes that are unstable. As a result, the entire Middle East is unstable now, but here you must always look at what economic damage the Americans have suffered. Have they suffered any economic damage at all?

I. Shishkin: It seems that no.

Afghanistan – a unique chance for a military alliance between Russia & China

From Russian Point of View

The inglorious and hasty departure of the US military contingents and their allies from the territory of Afghanistan is today almost the main world news , discussed by everyone – from serious analysts to idle gossips. This is not surprising – after all, this event, no doubt, will have geopolitical consequences that go far beyond the purely regional level.

Already now, forecasts are being made with might and main, and numerous versions are being put forward as to what exactly these very consequences may be. There are already plenty of similar “virtualities” built. However, it seems that one of them is missing – rather non-trivial and extremely intriguing just for our country.

No matter how the events in Afghanistan develop further, where the war (both with the participation of foreign troops and without them) has not subsided for many decades, it would be extremely naive to hope for a peaceful scenario that will develop “by itself”. The wrong country, the wrong people, the wrong internal “alignments” and factors of external influence … It is unlikely that a full-fledged solution to the problems of a state that is about to “break apart” again will be possible without a “power component”. This is where a turn is possible, which few expected today, but more than real in the future.

Reluctant peacekeepers?

It should be noted that it is Russia and China (among the major geopolitical “players”) that have the greatest and most direct interest in ensuring that Afghanistan, with the withdrawal of American soldiers from there, does not turn into a new Syria, or something worse. Let’s try to consider their reasons specifically, albeit in the most condensed and schematic form. 

First of all, neither Russia nor China “smiles” in any way as an excessive strengthening of the Taliban, nor, even more so, the revival of ISIS, which is quite likely at the present moment (both organizations are banned in Russia). And regarding the prospects for a keen bickering of many smaller, but from this no less harmful Islamist groups, which can turn both the country itself and all the regions adjacent to it into bloody bedlam, we can say exactly the same thing.

Radical and militant Islamism is an extremely nasty thing, in particular, because it has a pronounced ability, speaking in medical terms, to produce abundant metastases. Its export to the former Soviet republics of Central Asia for our country will mean a sharp increase in the terrorist threat, flows of refugees and illegal migrants, an increase in drug trafficking, arms smuggling and a lot of other “delights”. China, on the other hand, has a common border with Afghanistan, and even, as a sin, in the Xinjiang Uyghur region, inhabited mainly by Muslims. 

There is no doubt that given the current level of Beijing’s “friendship” with the West, there will be innumerable people willing to direct the expansion of radicals under a green or black banner in this very direction. However, to the reality of the prospects of their attacks on Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, this also applies to the fullest. To “spoil the blood” of the Russians and their allies by the hands of the Islamists is for the “white Sahibs” the most proven and, alas, effective method.

It should also not be forgotten that the Chinese comrades absolutely do not need any changes in not only the bordering Afghanistan, but the Pakistan that has “merged” with it. They have very big plans for this country within the framework of the One Belt – One Road project, considerable investments have already been made there, and even more are expected. In Beijing, they definitely do not agree to carry out a grandiose construction “under the roar of cannonade”. In one of the publications I happened to come across a phantasmagoric version that the Chinese de “offered the Taliban infrastructure and energy projects worth billions of dollars in exchange for lasting peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, having reached an appropriate agreement. This is just ridiculous. The “Islamic Emirate” (and this is how the Taliban deign to call themselves officially) is, to put it mildly, not quite the structure with which one can negotiate anything at all.

And as for financial investments, did the United States greatly help the US $ 137 billion, which it poured over two decades into the “reconstruction and development” of Afghanistan in ensuring stability in this completely unpredictable country and keeping its own protégés in power there? The Chinese are not more stupid and certainly not more naive than the Yankees. They know how to take into account and not repeat their mistakes in the most beautiful way. And so, by the way, with regard to the United States and not only them … One of the most important tasks for both Russia and China in the current situation is to prevent the preservation and even strengthening of the military-strategic positions in the region of the Americans who are now carrying out an exemplary “drape” from it and their allies, as well as the penetration of other forces there – for example, the same Turkey, rushing with the ghost of “Great Turan”. Just let them go

A Commonwealth Time to Put Into Practice

It has been known for a long time that the US army (and, in particular, specific “offices”) are excellently able to “stay while leaving”. However, they are not alone – for example, the British Daily Telegraph, citing sources in the Special Airborne Service (SAS), reported that the British special forces may well “stay” in Afghanistan. Allegedly “for the training of the local military.” Obviously, those that today surrender to the Taliban in thousands and flee to neighboring Tajikistan. It is perfectly clear against whom all the military and other similar structures of states that have declared their enemies No. 1 not some Taliban, but Russia and China, will actually act from Afghan territory. In addition, Washington does not abandon its attempts to openly settle even closer to our country – in Kazakhstan, for example. This should not be allowed in any case.

Where do we end up? Neither Moscow nor Beijing can afford to “let the situation in Afghanistan take its course”, relying on “maybe it will be formed”. Could it come to the necessity of bringing certain military contingents into this territory? Let’s be realistic – more than. And just do not need “oohs” and “oohs”, hysterics about “the danger of repeating the” Afghan break “of the USSR model”! Firstly, even then, everything was far from being as disastrous as they tried to convince us later, and it could have been even more successful – if not for some strategic miscalculations of the country’s leadership and the army. Secondly, the experience of the Syrian campaign convincingly proves that it is precisely these mistakes that Russia has realized and is not going to repeat. Well, and thirdly, forgive the cynicism, if a state with the ambitions of a world power does not participate in wars outside its own limits, war will sooner or later come to his land. To paraphrase Napoleon, a country that does not create military bases on foreign territory will receive foreign bases on its own. In this particular case, the “alignment” is exactly this and the other is not available.

Much more interesting, perhaps, is the question of what kind of forms military cooperation between Russia and China could take in ensuring peace and stability in Afghanistan and the adjacent region? We will consider the topic primarily in a pragmatic aspect – Beijing, perhaps, is much more interested than our country in the material side of solving this problem. “One Belt – One Road” could indeed be extended to Afghan territory – provided a stable peace is established there. For our country, in turn, it is more important to ensure the security of borders – both our own and allies in the same CSTO. However, why not get additional benefits from solving these problems? The People’s Liberation Army of China probably has the military-technical resources to conduct a peacekeeping operation of this magnitude. The problem here is something else – the complete absence of an extremely specific experience, vital in this case. But just our military has it – and from some of them it was acquired directly in Afghanistan, which makes it absolutely invaluable. Each side has something to offer each other, realizing that it will be problematic for both Moscow and Beijing to cope with an incredibly large-scale task alone. That is why such a configuration of the Russian-Chinese peacekeeping contingent seems to be the most appropriate, in which the Celestial Empire would take on the main burden of the logistical and financial support of the mission, and our country would be responsible for its other aspects arising from the presence of a huge array of “developments” which became the result of both the previous Afghan campaign and the recent Syrian one.

Extending the Treaty on Good Neighborliness and Friendly Cooperation between Russia and China, the leaders of the two countries spoke very sparingly about the purely military aspects of this very cooperation. Naturally – after all, such things are not announced to the general public. Nevertheless, Vladimir Putin emphasized that “coordination between Moscow and Beijing” undoubtedly plays a serious “stabilizing role”, including in the context of “increasing conflict potential in various parts of the world.” Ensuring peace in Afghanistan can be an excellent example of such “stabilization” in the Russian-Chinese implementation. And this will be even more important in light of the fact that, in front of the eyes of the whole world, the corresponding mission was failed miserably and shamefully by the United States and its allies.

The military alliance between Moscow and Beijing is for the “collective West” perhaps the biggest nightmare they can imagine. On this occasion, in particular, they have repeatedly and very sharply expressed themselves in the White House, calling the very possibility of such an alliance “a direct challenge to the vital interests of the United States.” In order to show that all these are not empty fears, but a very real prospect, over which the West really needs to ponder, the Russian and Chinese military sooner or later need to stand shoulder to shoulder not in exercises, but in a real combat situation, which fully checks for the strength of weapons, people, and defense alliances. So why shouldn’t this happen in Afghanistan?

India has key first-mover edge on China in Iran

India doubling down on Iran’s Chabahar port project as strategic counter to China’s Belt and Road gains trade traction

By FM SHAKIL

When China clinched a massive $400 billion bilateral investment pact with Iran, few noted that India was already well-engaged.

By the end of May, India will begin full-scale operations in its first foreign port venture at Iran’s Chabahar. That is facility that opens on the Gulf of Oman that will aim to facilitate more South Asia, Central Asia and Middle East trade while bypassing Pakistan.

India’s US$500 million investment represents a clear and potent commercial challenge to China’s massive port investment in neighboring Pakistan’s Gwadar. Gwadar is a key component of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The 10-year lease agreement, a deal first clinched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Tehran in 2016, has until now been hobbled by US sanctions imposed under the Donald Trump administration.  

Indian suppliers and engineers, some with interests in the US, were reluctant to deliver essential machinery and services to Iran on fears they could somehow be sanctioned, despite clear exemptions on Chabahar in Trump’s sanction order. That led to certain speculation that China may take over the project from India.

New Delhi has doubled down and accelerated the project with the shift from Trump to Biden. It is banking like others on a new breakthrough on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement and a broader US-Iran warming trend.

Aerial view of Iran’s Chabahar port. Image: Twitter

India has supplied two large cargo-moving cranes. It will deliver two more in the coming weeks before the facility’s expected ceremonial opening.

New Delhi is already promoting the port’s potential humanitarian role, noting it was used to send emergency shipments of wheat to Afghanistan during the Covid-19 crisis and pesticide to Iran to deal with a recent locust infestation.

Pakistan is getting worried about losing regional trade

India’s renewed commitment to Iran via Chabahar is already setting alarm bells ringing in neighboring Pakistan, which is already losing regional trade mainly from Afghanistan to Iran despite US sanctions.

India and Pakistan recently announced a renewed commitment to an existing 2003 ceasefire over contested Kashmir. That move that should allow both to focus more on economic linkages than strategic rivalry.

Chabahar has seen limited operations since 2019, a result of US restrictions imposed on Iran’s energy exports. The port handled a mere 123 vessels with 1.8 million tons of bulk and general cargo from February 2019 to January 2021. It is well below its operating capacity, according to reports.

That’s set to change. New Delhi ultimately aims to link Chabahar to its International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). It is a project initially proposed by India, Russia and Iran in 2000 and later joined by 10 other Central Asian nations.

Some see the INSTC as a less-monied rival to China’s BRI. Belt-Road-Initiative has invested heavily in Pakistan’s road, power and trade infrastructure. And including huge multi-billion dollar investments at Gwadar port some critics have likened to a debt trap.

Security concerns sparked by armed groups in Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where Gwadar is situated, have hindered progress on various BRI projects and pushed Pakistan to recently ramp up security at the Beijing-invested port.

From India to Europe – cheaper and faster

INSTC envisions a 7,200 kilometer-long, multimode network comprised of shipping, rail and road links. It is connecting India’s Mumbai with Europe via Moscow and Central Asia. Initial estimates suggest INSTC could cut current carriage costs by about 30% and travel times by half.

That means more trade and port activity for Iran and less for Pakistan. Last year Iran has already usurped 70% of Pakistan’s recent transport business at Karachi port.

Landlocked Afghanistan has traditionally relied on Pakistan as its gateway to international shipping routes. However, recent trends indicate that as much as 70% of Afghan transit trade is now handled by Iran.

If India presses ahead as planned with INSTC, Pakistan would be the ultimate loser as Afghan and Central Asian transport business diverts increasingly to Chabahar and away from Karachi and Gwadar.

“Iran had already started working on a 600-kilometer-long railway line connecting Chabahar port to Zahedan, the provincial capital of Sistan-Baluchestan province close to the Afghan border,” he said.

India has already lined up $1.6 billion for the project to facilitate the movement of goods to and from Afghanistan via Iran. India also plans to invest $2 billion to develop supporting infrastructure including the Chabahar-Hajigak railway line in Afghanistan.

Many Afghan traders are plugging into Chabahar

Many Afghan traders still rely on traditional transit routes through Pakistan. However, many are plugging into Chabahar’s comparative cost-effectiveness and speed in handling transit cargo, analysts say. The same is true for Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and other landlocked Central Asian countries looking for alternatives to Pakistani ports.      

Pakistan-Afghanistan trade has recently fallen from around $2.5 billion to $1 billion annually due to wide-ranging differences over the now expired transit agreement.

“Afghans want Pakistan to allow Afghan wheelers to enter into Indian border areas through Wagah for transportation of Afghan export goods and on return upload import consignments from India,”

“Pakistan on the other hand argues that the APTTA is a bilateral arrangement between Pakistan and Afghanistan and not a trilateral agreement to facilitate mutual trade between India and Afghanistan,”.

Chabahar is Iran’s only oceanic port and so far consists of Shahid Kalantari and Shahid Beheshti terminals. Each of which has five berth facilities. The port is located in Iran’s Sistan and Baluchestan Province. It is about 120 kilometers southwest of Pakistan’s Balochistan province, where the China-funded Gwadar port is situated.

In May 2016, India, Iran and Afghanistan signed a trilateral agreement for the strategically-located Chabahar to give New Delhi access to Kabul and Central Asia without having to travel through Pakistan.

Chabahar is regional project unlike Gwadar which is China oriented

The original plan committed at least $21 billion to the so-called Chabahar–Hajigak corridor, which then included $85 million for Chabahar port development, a $150 million credit line to Iran, an $8 billion India-Iran MoU for Indian industrial investment in a Chabahar special economic zone, and $11 billion for the Hajigak iron and steel mining project awarded to seven Indian companies in central Afghanistan.

Unlike Chabahar, which is designed more to serve the economic and trade interests of the wider region, Gwadar is more tilted toward Beijing’s ambitions, analysts and traders say.

Gwadar port’s planned capacity will accommodate a massive 300 to 400 million tons of cargo annually, comparable to the combined annual capacity of all Indian ports. It also dwarfs the 10-12 million tons of cargo handling capacity now planned for Chabahar.

In another comparison, the largest US port at Long Beach, California, handles 80 million tons of cargo, about a quarter of what Gwadar could handle upon completion of a project that is designed largely to receive and move China’s, not the region’s, trade.

The North-South corridor and the Eurasia canal

From Russian point of view

The accident of the container ship Ever Given in the Suez Canal, which blocked this important transport artery for almost a week, sparked discussions on alternative routes for the delivery of goods from Asia to Europe. One such alternative is the so-called North-South corridor and the associated Eurasia Canal project. They are able to connect the center of the continent and the Gulf region with the markets of Europe.

At the same time, the implementation of these logistics projects is impossible without Russia. Why are both routes interesting for world trade?

Nursultan, move the sea!

The agreements on the implementation of the North-South International Transport Corridor (ITC) project – from the Indian port of Mumbai (Bombay) through the Persian Gulf, Iran, the Caspian Sea and further through our country up to the ports of the Baltic Sea and western borders – were signed by Russia. India and Iran in St. Petersburg back in 2000. The 7200 km route avoids the passage of the Suez Canal and the roundabout route around all of Europe, transporting goods from India and the Persian Gulf countries through Russian territory directly to the markets of Northern and Western Europe.

In turn, the Eurasia canal adjoins the North-South corridor and brings it to the countries of Eastern and Southern Europe. This navigable canal should connect the Caspian and Azov Seas and pass through the bitter-salt lake Manych-Gudilo and the Manych depression. The maximum height of depression is only 20 meters above sea level.

The idea of ​​”Eurasia” arose much earlier, in the 1930s, even before the construction of the Volga-Don Canal. Such a deep-water channel would allow not only river-sea vessels to enter the Caspian, but also large sea-going ships. For the first time in modern times, the idea of ​​building a canal was returned at the interstate level in 2007. It was during a meeting between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the head of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Both projects are not purely maritime transport routes. Rather, they are similar to China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which uses Eurasian connectivity across inland seas, roads, and railways. So-called “combined” transport corridors. Such corridors include not only port-to-port maritime transport. They also include significant land sections that complement maritime transport.

Benefits for Kazakhstan

In the usual comparison, of course, road and rail transport lose out to sea transport. In case of combined transport, direct comparison often does not work. Take Kazakhstan: this country is located in the very center of Eurasia – and in one way or another it is forced to rely on roads and railways to trade with the world. And the closer the conditional sea comes to the borders of Kazakhstan, the easier and cheaper it will be for Astana to send its goods for export and receive imported goods from abroad.

By itself, the Caspian Sea is unsuitable for this: it is an isolated seawater that does not communicate with the World Ocean by deep-water transport. But if you connect the Caspian with the Black Sea, which already has access to the ocean routes through the Bosphorus, and provide rail transportation to the Persian Gulf region, then Kazakhstan’s entry into the world market will be much easier.

Ukrainian rake

At first glance, Russia’s interest in the North-South corridor and the Eurasia channel is not so obvious. After all, let’s say, cargo from Central Asia, which today goes to Europe on our railways, will then be sent directly by sea vessels from the Caspian ports belonging to Kazakhstan or Turkmenistan. After that, the sea vessel will transport them either to the ports of Iran, or straight to Europe through “Eurasia”.

However, there is a certain flaw in this logic. The geographical advantage should not be abused. This is clearly shown by the example of Ukraine. Ukraine, being a practical monopoly on the transit of Russian gas to Europe in the mid-1990s, completely squandered this unique potential in less than 30 years. Russia simply built bypass routes around Ukraine.

The development of the future logistics of the Caspian region can follow the same logic. There is an alternative version of the shipping channel between the Caspian and the Black Sea. That should pass through Azerbaijan and Georgia, along the valleys of the Kura and Rioni rivers. The British even tried to dig such a canal in the early 1920s. However, the annexation of Menshevik Georgia to Russia closed the possibility for its construction. Today such plans are cherished by Turkey. Turkey wants to link Central Asia with its territory through Azerbaijan and Georgia, and in the future through Armenia.

Iran as counterweight to Turkey

If Russia retains control over important sections of the North-South corridor in cooperation with Iran and provides a deep-water sea route to the Caspian through its territory, this will not only reduce the cost of logistics for a number of Asian countries, but also reliably “tie” them to Russia. In addition, Iran is a natural counterweight to Turkey in the region, which was clearly demonstrated during the recent aggravation of the Karabakh conflict.

As for our railways, you don’t have to worry about them. There is quite enough work for Russian Railways within the framework of the increased trade turnover along the North-South corridor. The decrease in trade turnover due to sea vessels passing through Eurasia will be offset by canal fees collected from them.

The main effect of the implementation of both projects may be the creation of two Russian transport corridors at once. They will compete with all the “southern” routes from Asia to Europe. Including the route through the Suez Canal and around the Cape of Good Hope. Russia becomes not only a transport hub, but also a guarantor of stability for many countries of Eurasia. Such an intracontinental transport corridor is much less dependent on unexpected changes in the geopolitical situation. Or the West’s desire to grossly interfere in world trade through sanctions, embargoes and other restrictions.

Author: Alexey Anpilogov


On June 15, 2007, at the 17th Foreign Investors’ Council Meeting in Ust-Kamenogorsk, President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan proposed the Eurasia Canal project to build a canal connecting the Caspian and Black Seas. The project was estimated to cost US$6 billion and take 10 years to complete.[7][8]

Wikipedia

If built, the nearly 700 km (430 mi) Eurasia Canal would be four times longer than the Suez Canal and eight times longer than the Panama Canal. President Nazarbayev stated that the canal would make Kazakhstan a maritime power and benefit many other Central Asian nations as well.[7] Russia has proposed an alternative plan to upgrade the existing Volga-Don Canal.

Wikipedia

How the New Silk Roads are merging into Greater Eurasia

Russia is keen to push economic integration with parts of Asia and this fits in with China’s Belt and Road Initiative

By PEPE ESCOBAR

The concept of Greater Eurasia has been discussed at the highest levels of Russian academia and policy-making for some time. This week the policy was presented at the Council of Ministers and looks set to be enshrined, without fanfare, as the main guideline of Russian foreign policy for the foreseeable future.

President Putin is unconditionally engaged to make it a success. Already at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016, Putin referred to an emerging “Eurasian partnership”.

I was privileged over the past week to engage in excellent discussions in Moscow with some of the top Russian analysts and policymakers involved in advancing Greater Eurasia.

Three particularly stand out: Yaroslav Lissovolik, program director of the Valdai Discussion Club and an expert on the politics and economics of the Global South; Glenn Diesen, author of the seminal Russia’s Geoeconomic Strategy for a Greater Eurasia; and the legendary Professor Sergey Karaganov, dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the National Research University Higher School of Economics and honorary chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, who received me in his office for an off-the-record conversation.

The framework for Great Eurasia has been dissected in detail by the indispensable Valdai Discussion Club, particularly on Rediscovering the Identity, the sixth part of a series called Toward the Great Ocean, published last September, and authored by an academic who’s who on the Russian Far East, led by Leonid Blyakher of the Pacific National University in Khabarovsk and coordinated by Karaganov, director of the project.

The conceptual heart of Greater Eurasia is Russia’s Turn to the East, or pivot to Asia, home of the economic and technological markets of the future. This implies Greater Eurasia proceeding in symbiosis with China’s New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). And yet this advanced stage of the Russia-China strategic partnership does not mean Moscow will neglect its myriad close ties to Europe.

Russian Far East experts are very much aware of the “Eurocentrism of a considerable portion of Russian elites.” They know how almost the entire economic, demographic and ideological environment in Russia has been closely intertwined with Europe for three centuries. They recognize that Russia has borrowed Europe’s high culture and its system of military organization. But now, they argue, it’s time, as a great Eurasian power, to profit from “an original and self-sustained fusion of many civilizations”; Russia not just as a trade or connectivity point, but as a “civilizational bridge”.

Legacy of Genghis Khan 

What my conversations, especially with Lissovolik, Diesen and Karaganov, have revealed is something absolutely groundbreaking – and virtually ignored across the West; Russia is aiming to establish a new paradigm not only in geopolitics and geoeconomics, but also on a cultural and ideological level.

Conditions are certainly ripe for it. Northeast Asia is immersed in a power vacuum. The Trump administration’s priority – as well as the US National Security Strategy’s – is containment of China. Both Japan and South Korea, slowly but surely, are getting closer to Russia.

Culturally, retracing Russia’s past, Greater Eurasia analysts may puzzle misinformed Western eyes. ‘Towards the Great Ocean’, the Valdai report supervised by Karaganov, notes the influence of Byzantium, which “preserved classical culture and made it embrace the best of the Orient culture at a time when Europe was sinking into the Dark Ages.” Byzantium inspired Russia to adopt Orthodox Christianity.

It also stresses the role of the Mongols over Russia’s political system. “The political traditions of most Asian countries are based on the legacy of the Mongols. Arguably, both Russia and China are rooted in Genghis Khan’s empire,” it says.

If the current Russian political system may be deemed authoritarian – or, as claimed in Paris and Berlin, an exponent of “illiberalism” – top Russian academics argue that a market economy protected by lean, mean military power performs way more efficiently than crisis-ridden Western liberal democracy.

As China heads West in myriad forms, Greater Eurasia and the Belt and Road Initiative are bound to merge. Eurasia is crisscrossed by mighty mountain ranges such as the Pamirs and deserts like the Taklamakan and the Karakum. The best ground route runs via Russia or via Kazakhstan to Russia. In crucial soft power terms, Russian remains the lingua franca in Mongolia, Central Asia and the Caucasus.

And that leads us to the utmost importance of an upgraded Trans-Siberian railway – Eurasia’s current connectivity core. In parallel, the transportation systems of the Central Asian “stans” are closely integrated with the Russian network of roads; all that is bound to be enhanced in the near future by Chinese-built high-speed rail.

Iran and Turkey are conducting their own versions of a pivot to Asia. A free-trade agreement between Iran and the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) was approved in early December. Iran and India are also bound to strike a free-trade agreement. Iran is a big player in the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC), which is essential in driving closer economic integration between Russia and India.

The Caspian Sea, after a recent deal between its five littoral states, is re-emerging as a major trading post in Central Eurasia. Russia and Iran are involved in a joint project to build a gas pipeline to India.

Kazakhstan shows how Greater Eurasia and BRI are complementary; Astana is both a member of BRI and the EAEU. The same applies to gateway Vladivostok, Eurasia’s entry point for both South Korea and Japan, as well as Russia’s entry point to Northeast Asia.

Ultimately, Russia’s regional aim is to connect China’s northern provinces with Eurasia via the Trans-Siberian and the Chinese Eastern Railway – with Chita in China and Khabarovsk in Russia totally inter-connected.

And all across the spectrum, Moscow aims at maximizing return on the crown jewels of the Russian Far East; agriculture, water resources, minerals, lumber, oil and gas. Construction of liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants in Yamal vastly benefits China, Japan and South Korea.

Community spirit

Eurasianism, as initially conceptualized in the early 20th century by the geographer PN Savitsky, the geopolitician GV Vernadsky and the cultural historian VN Ilyn, among others, regarded Russian culture as a unique, complex combination of East and West, and the Russian people as belonging to “a fully original Eurasian community”.

That certainly still applies. But as Valdai Club analysts argue, the upgraded concept of Greater Eurasia “is not targeted against Europe or the West”; it aims to include at least a significant part of the EU.

The Chinese leadership describes BRI not only as connectivity corridors, but also as a “community”. Russians use a similar term applied to Greater Eurasia; sobornost (“community spirit”).

As Alexander Lukin of the Higher School of Economics and an expert on the SCO has constantly stressed, including in his book China and Russia: The New Rapprochement, this is all about the interconnection of Greater Eurasia, BRI, EAEU, SCO, INSTC, BRICS, BRICS Plus and ASEAN.

The cream of the crop of Russian intellectuals – at the Valdai Club and the Higher School of Economics – as well as top Chinese analysts, are in sync. Karaganov himself constantly reiterates that the concept of Greater Eurasia was arrived at, “jointly and officially”, by the Russia-China partnership; “a common space for economic, logistic and information cooperation, peace and security from Shanghai to Lisbon and New Delhi to Murmansk”.

The concept of Greater Eurasia is, of course, a work in progress. What my conversations in Moscow revealed is its extraordinary ambition; positioning Russia as a key geoeconomic and geopolitical crossroads linking the economic systems of North Eurasia, Central and Southwest Asia.

As Diesen notes, Russia and China have become inevitable allies because of their “shared objective of restructuring global value-chains and developing a multipolar world”. It’s no wonder Beijing’s drive to develop state-of-the-art national technological platforms is provoking so much anger in Washington. And in terms of the big picture, it makes perfect sense for BRI to be harmonized with Russia’s economic connectivity drive for Greater Eurasia.

That’s irreversible. The dogs of demonization, containment, sanctions and even war may bark all they want, but the Eurasia integration caravan keeps moving along.

Caspian Deal Highlights Shift in Azerbaijan

TOM LUONGO

As the US/Turkish relationship deteriorates it is having spillover effects around the region. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s continued defiance of US’s demands have placed Turkey in the cross-hairs of a vicious hybrid-war attack on the country’s fragile economic foundation.

So, I find it very interesting that during the week of the greatest turmoil in Turkish markets, notably a panic in the Turkish Lira, the five nations bordering the Caspian Sea reach an historic agreement which remained elusive for over 20 years.

And at the heart of that disagreement has been Azerbaijan’s claims over oil and gas rights in the Caspian which rankled both Turkmenistan to the north and Iran to the south.

For the past few years, as US/Russian relations have cratered, Russian/Azeri relations have improved. And it has been the diligent work of both Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov which laid the groundwork for this agreement.

Putin first organized a trilateral summit between himself, Azeri President Aliyev and Iranian President Rouhani two years ago this month.

But, more importantly, it has been Putin and Lavrov’s steady and consistent diplomatic efforts to improve relations between Russia and all the former Soviet states which the US has worked diligently since the early 1990’s to harm.

Azerbaijan has always fallen on the US side of the geopolitical chess board.

On top of this is Russia’s very successful campaign in countering the US/Saudi/Israeli-led civil war in Syria which resulted in a very significant turn in Russian/Turkish relations. And this, to me, is the key to understanding why these long-frozen conflicts around the region are changing, sometimes, like this weekend’s summit, dramatically.

To this point Russia has taken everything the US has thrown at it and survived. And if you don’t think smaller players like Azerbaijan aren’t taking notice, then you are hopelessly naïve. A Russia capable of standing up to the US is a Russia capable of being a valuable regional partner.

And that partnership extends around the entire region.

Take the frozen conflict of Nagorno-Karabakh, for example. For the past twenty-plus years Turkey has backed Azeri claims and Russia, tacitly, Armenia’s. But, despite a flare-up a couple of years ago, just hours after US Secretary of State John Kerry left Baku, settling Nagorno-Karabakh is on everyone’s mind.

Over the weekend Nagorno-Karabakh was on the diplomatic menu in the meeting between Lavrov and his Turkish counterpart, Movlut Çavuşoğlu.

Even the new Armenian Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, is ready to discuss the conflict.

“We have expressed political willingness to continue talks on Nagorno-Karabakh in a constructive way, in line with our political obligations and in the context of Armenia’s interests. However, a preparatory stage is required to revive negotiations, especially in the current political situation,” he stressed.

Pashinyan added that Yerevan “is ready for any scenario on Nagorno-Karabakh.”

I expect that a deal over Nagorno-Karabakh will be brokered by Russia with Turkey’s support now that Turkey will be dependent on Russia for its financial survival as it pursues a painful and necessary de-dollarization process, the beginnings of which have already begun.

With reports that the US is in peace talks with moderate factions within the Taliban out there, the possibility of a withdrawal becomes greater. Moreover, the Caspian Sea agreement precludes any third-party military presence, another sign of Azerbaijan’s shift away from the US’s orbit.

The regional change doesn’t stop there, however. The recent election of Imran Khan in Pakistan changes that country’s role again in the direction of Russian and Chinese integration plans, especially in brokering a long-term stabilization plan for Afghanistan.

The message is becoming very clear to all the smaller regional players, the board is changing. And you can be a part of it or you can be left behind. The US’s plans for permanent chaos in central Asia has harmed all of these places and now is the beginning of the transition period.

I’ve held from the moment it began that Russia’s intervention in Syria would mark the peak of the US’s ability to project power around the world, this is certainly now true in central Asia and the Middle East.

The current defiance by Turkey is another aftershock of that intervention which revealed the lies which everyone on the ground in Syria knew about but felt powerless to change.

That’s why Russia’s intervention and success was so significant. It created an Axis of Resistance that was credible and would pay the kinds of dividends we are seeing today.

This is not to downgrade the contributions of Russia’s partners in Syria, the Syrians themselves, Iran and Hezbollah, but it was Russia that tipped the balance of power in Syria. Because under no circumstances were the Obama or Trump administrations willing to risk a direct conflict with Russia over Syria.

Hillary Clinton was a different story, but, thankfully, one we never had to experience.

So, for Azerbaijan its relationships with its neighbors are about to undergo a sea change, which should see meat put on the bones of this weekend’s agreement about oil and gas rights.

Note, also that while Trump is adamant about there being no exemptions to trading with Iran after November, that the US State Department issued a waiver for Azerbaijan’s Southern Gas Corridor project which it partners with none other than British Petroleum.

The Southern Gas Corridor is one of those ridiculously expensive work-arounds created by US geopolitical meddling to free Europe from the yoke of Russia’s cheap and abundant gas supplies.

Royal Dutch Shell and France’s Total were not given such waivers over the former’s involvement with Nordstream 2 or the latter’s deal with NIOC, which China’s CNPC took over at a discount.

As I’ve said before, never go nuclear in your negotiations, if your bluff is called you are left standing naked as the tide recedes. And the US’s real strength in central Asia has been for many years a weak and disjointed Russia allowing the chaos sowed to flourish.

That condition is no longer in effect and all that’s left for the US is unsustainable military deployments, both financially and logistically, and growing discontent at an international system of trade and finance which is abusive.

Viewed in that context, this weekend’s surprise agreement shouldn’t be much surprise at all.

Source: https://www.strategic-culture.org/news/2018/08/17/caspian-deal-highlights-shift-in-azerbaijan.html