By Paul Goble
Moscow officials and international media have given prominent coverage to Russian plans for a transcontinental trade corridor southward into Iran in order to end run Western sanctions and to expand Russian trade with the Indian Ocean basin. But Russian experts say that the opening of such a route is months or even years away.
The reason, experts like Georgy Vlastopulo, head of the Optimal Logistics Company, say, lies in the topography of northern Iran. Large numbers of new tunnels and bridges need to be built because the existing rail network there hasn’t been completed and is not yet fully electrified (bfm.ru/news/515773).
According to him, some 164 kilometers of track need to be laid through some of the most mountainous regions, and electrical networks have to be expanded for more than 494 kilometers of line. Moscow has promised to invest 1.2 billion US dollars on these projects, Vlastopulo says; but it is “an open question” as to when the work will be completed. In any case, it won’t be soon.
And Sergey Khestanov, an advisor on macroeconomics at the Open Investments Company, says it is far from clear whether the value of trade that might pass along such a line would justify its completion. As a result, it is entirely possible that despite the current hype, no such line will be built anytime soon – or perhaps even at all.
Those who think otherwise, the two suggest, are ignoring both the topography of northern Iran and the probability that even if such a line were to open eventually, it might not pay off the cost of investments. In the coming months, that imbalance is only likely to increase, reducing still further than the line will be built.