By Paul Goble
For more than two decades, various international consortia have talked about organizing trade corridors between Europe and Asia to bypass the Russian Federation. Now, Moscow has turned the tables and announced plans to create two east-west trade corridors to bypass Kazakhstan which it increasingly views as an obstacle.
This summer, Russian officials have announced the start of construction of two new transportation corridors from China to Europe that will bypass Kazakhstan: one via Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan and then via the Caspian Sea to Astrakhan, and a second by extending the Moscow-Kazan railroad through the Altai Republic or Mongolia.
Some Kazakhstan experts are concerned about this development, but Aleksandr Knyazev of MGIMO says that they shouldn’t see this latest move as directed primarily against Kazakhstan, although there are elements in it that have that consequence, as a desire by Moscow and Beijing to diversity east-west corridors (qmonitor.kz/politics/6048).
Moscow is angry at Kazakhstan for delays at its borders, at least some of which reflect monitoring by American contractors to ensure that sanctioned goods don’t enter the Russian market. But so is Kyrgyzstan and China, Knyazev says, stressing that the Russian side still views Kazakhstan as a partner.
In any case, the construction of these two routes will take some time, possibly years, and so what Moscow has done in making these announcements is likely more a warning to the Kazakh authorities of what could happen rather than a certainty that Moscow plans to isolate Kazakhstan regardless of what Astana does.