Domestic Economy

Cargo Transit via INSTC Registers 360% Upswing

Cargo Transit via INSTC Registers 360% Upswing
Cargo Transit via INSTC Registers 360% Upswing

The International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC) has witnessed a whopping surge of 360% in cargo transit after its Caspian Sea route was launched by Khazar Sea Shipping Lines Company, according to the company's managing director.
Kambiz Jahanbani also noted that the fleet of transit vessels supplied by KSSLC, a subsidiary of Iran’s maritime flag carrier, has exceeded demand, IRNA reported.
He added that the company is fully prepared to carry out multimodal transit operations via INSTC and through Caspian Sea ports from Asia to Russia and other Eurasian countries. 
INSTC is a 7,200-km-long multimodal transportation project for moving freight among India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia and Europe.



Burgeoning Trade With Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin has made the opening of the north-south trade route between the Russian Federation and the Indian Ocean via Iran a priority for more than a decade. 
However, the project has run into increasing difficulties on both of the two possible land routes via the Caucasus or Central Asia. As a result, Moscow, in agreement with Tehran, is now focusing on developing Russian-Iranian trade via the Caspian Sea. This route, too, is not without its problems. 
Moscow has long had difficulty with intermodal shipping. Its shipping and port capacity on the Caspian is limited, and Iran’s ports lack transportation connections with the country’s national rail network. Nonetheless, the route is expanding rapidly, with trade between the two countries by sea having risen by 70% over the past 12 months alone — nearly ten times the growth in Iranian foreign trade as a whole. 
If the Caspian route continues to develop at anything close to that rate, the Caspian, rather than the Caucasus or Central Asia, could become the prime route between Russia and the world’s oceans, allowing Moscow to end run many sanctions limitations and further cement its alliance with Iran, Eurasia specialist and former adviser to the US secretary of state, Paul Goble, wrote in an article published by The Jamestown Foundation.
Many analysts have assumed that Moscow and Tehran are looking to the sea as a route because of real and potential instability in the Caucasus and Central Asia, or because of the desire of other countries in those regions to keep their distance from the internationally isolated pair. Such dangers, especially in the Caucasus, are certainly part of the two governments’ calculations. But the more immediate reason for this shift appears to be prosaic. 
Neither Moscow nor Tehran has the funds needed to complete the rail links in Iran anytime soon to make either the Caucasus or Central Asia overland routes effective. And in view of the sanctions, neither is likely to be able to find alternative foreign funding. 
(Any Chinese money going into Iran almost certainly would favor east-west routes that would not benefit the north-south links Moscow wants.)



Development of Land Routes Costly

Developing the two land routes is certain to be expensive. The route in northern Iran linking the Caucasus must pass through some of the most difficult terrain in the country. And while Moscow has promised more than $1 billion in assistance to complete the tunnels and bridges needed, many Russian experts say that the money is unlikely to be forthcoming anytime soon. The Kremlin has also promised aid to complete the modernization of rail lines in the eastern part of Iran that would link to Central Asian lines. But again, it has not sent the money and may not do so anytime soon. 
Indeed, the Russian authorities, given the budgetary constraints arising from the war against Ukraine, have been cutting back or canceling other rail development projects that likely have an even higher priority, including the modernization of the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur rail lines in Siberia and the Russian Far East connecting the country to China.
Given those budgetary problems, Tehran has decided to focus on developing the far shorter rail branch that will connect its Caspian Bandar Anzali Port with the national rail system, and Moscow has decided to focus on using the Caspian’s sea lanes rather than land-based rail lines to try to keep Putin’s north-south trade corridor on track. That will please Moscow by leading to a further increase in Russian-Iranian trade southward. But it will also allow Iran to increase its influence in both the Caucasus and Central Asia by expanding trade with the other littoral states.
It would open the way for security cooperation, moves that could further undermine the dominance of Russia’s Caspian flotilla and Moscow’s influence both east and west of the Caspian. And it will likely increase Iran’s role as a shipbuilder and repairer for Russia itself and as a partner in the dredging operations on Russia’s key Volga-Don Canal, tipping the balance of influence between the two capitals in Tehran’s favor.



Iran’s Growing Influence

Moscow analysts are already pointing to Iran’s growing influence as a result of these moves, with some trying to make the best of what they consider a bad deal as far as Russia is concerned. 
They suggest that Tehran will have to work closely with Moscow, rather than against it, if it is to achieve its goals and that, in any case, a Russian-Iranian entente on the Caspian will keep Turkey and Western powers out of the region. It will also serve as a balance to the increasing role of China in Central Asia.
But at least three reasons highlight why such Russian optimism is likely misplaced. First, Russia has only two major ports on the Caspian, Astrakhan and Makhachkala. The first is icebound three to four months a year, and the second is in historically unstable Dagestan. Second, exploiting this sea route will require two steps that Moscow has found difficult to complete. 
Russian shippers are notorious for not being able to manage intermodal transit, and Russia does not have enough cargo ships on the Caspian, let alone enough roll-on, roll-off vehicles, for the Caspian to make up for the Kremlin’s expectations about the prospective land routes.
And third, Iran has shown here, as elsewhere, that it is playing its own game and is not willing to go along with what Russia wants. The most prominent example of this is the fact that, five years on, Iran is still refusing to ratify the Caspian delimitation agreement brokered by Moscow, which all other littoral states have approved. As a result, there are likely to be almost as many reasons for conflict between the two countries as bases for cooperation. 
At the very least, the other Caspian littoral countries are almost certain to conclude that what Russia is doing in focusing on the Caspian routes reflects not its strength but its weakness, and will act accordingly, reordering the geo-economic and geopolitical arrangements of the entire region.

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