(By Dr Shahid Qureshi) :-
President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev once again became one of the most quoted newsmakers of the world mass media last week. The Kazakh leader declared the possibility of construction of a navigable canal between the Black and Caspian seas at the summit of the EAEU countries on May 14 in Sochi. The idea is not new and, as Nazarbayev himself said: “It has been mentioned in the times of the Tsar.” So what does the solidarity of the President of Kazakhstan and the Russian tsars of the past centuries express? The answer lies on the surface: no one has cancelled geopolitical and economic claims of different states. Especially in modern, sometimes very difficult, political realities. In order to understand the issue in detail, let’s remember its history.
For the first time, Nursultan Nazarbayev ambitiously stated about the construction of the canal 11 years ago – in 2007 during the integration process of the EAEU countries. It is very symbolic that in the same year the President Vladimir Putin announced the necessity of expansion of waterways on the territory of Russia, proposing, as an option, the modernization of the Volga-Don Canal. The waterway offered by Nazarbayev is 1000 km shorter than the canal offer by Russians, besides “Eurasia” Canal will transport much more cargo than the Russian one – up to 45 million tons per year. The difference is not only in the length of the canal, although in business even this one fact would play a significant role. However, economic issues are not always a priority when big politics comes into business. Russia in 2018 is not the same state as it was 11 years ago. Therefore, the world experts also agree, it is time now for Nazarbayev’s sound idea.
The President of Kazakhstan is a big pragmatist and this statement cannot be refuted, for example, for the first time Nursultan Nazarbayev spoke about the idea of creating a common economic space in 1994; after 24 years of trading the agreement with the EAEU is concluded by Iran; the partnership agreement is signed by Kyrgyzstan; and Moldova, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan are among the candidates for joining the Economic Union. In January-February 2018 the volume of trade within the EAEU increased to $8.6 bn, which is 14.4% more than in the same period of 2017.
However, the new-old initiative of Nazarbayev on the construction of the Eurasia Canal can be considered as another impetus for the development of the EAEU. Quoting President Nazarbayev: The EAEU infrastructure should be a good bridge between Asia and Europe, East and West, Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Of course, this project is simply necessary for Kazakhstan, almost 70 percent of the Kazakh raw materials are transported through Russia. The new transport route will reduce transit times and expenses for transportation. Just compare: now Astana is transporting oil to the ports of the Black Sea through the CPC pipeline first, but before this, it needs to be transported to the Caspian Pipeline consortium in tankers.
Kazakh mass media have already counted: if the new canal will still be constructed, it will be able to accept vessels carrying capacity up to 8-10 thousand tons. Kazakhstan will not be the only state benefiting from it, in addition, all the Caspian states will do so. Canal construction will have a standard and quite predictable economic effect. It will give impetus to the development of related industries: construction, shipbuilding, and hundreds of people will be employed. The new Eurasian sea route will be an outlet to the sea for all the Central Asian states – through Russia, which will receive payment for the use of its part of the route. Russian experts recognized the proposed project is of not only economic but political nature for Russia. The new waterway will influence the image of the EAEU, including official Moscow.
Popular Russian political scientist Sergey Markov writes that the stimulus for the beginning of the canal construction is a desire to revive the Eurasian Economic Union. In his opinion, the US, China and the EU are not very eager to see a big and really working, and thus competing economic union. The idea of building a direct road with a maximum reduced transit dependence has long been considered by some states of the EAEU. A month ago, in the Chinese Hainan, China’s leader Xi Jinping and Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi agreed on the construction of the Chinese and Pakistani corridor. This infrastructure project worth of 46 billion dollars is expected to build roads and railways. If Kazakhstan will not offer a more advantageous alternative now, then Chinese goods can go bypassing the EAEU countries, which is a loss of millions of dollars of future profits.
It was not a coincidence that at the Sochi summit, Nursultan Nazarbayev invited his colleagues to think about the construction of a high-speed motorway “Eurasia”, which would connect Europe with Asia through Russia and Kazakhstan. Proposed by official Astana transport artery is also a new possibility and a way of export for Chinese manufacturers. For comparison, now the average time of delivery of Chinese goods to Europe reaches 2 months, but with the emergence of a new route, this period will be reduced to 10 days.
According to experts, the new route will pay off in 10 years, which is an appropriate period for such a large-scale construction. When 11 years ago analysts, economists and political scientists studied Nazarbayev’s idea on the construction of “Eurasia” canal, they said that the new route can change the geopolitical situation of the Caspian states, turning them into countries with an access to the sea. This prospect justifies the amount of work and the funds spent by the states. There are some concerns from ecological point of view, but, the leaders of the Caspian states are more than others interested in preservation of ecological balance and natural microclimate of the country.
Views expressed are not of The London Post.