Tuesday, 15 December 2015 21:16

The EU, Central Asia, and the Development of Continental Transport and Trade Featured


1512TransportBy S. Frederick Starr, Svante E. Cornell, and Nicklas Norling

Silk Road Paper, December 2015.

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Executive Summary

Since the collapse of the USSR, a number of initiatives have embarked on the momentous task of rebuilding trade and transportation arteries between Europe and Asia across Central Asia and the Caucasus. The underlying logic has been two-fold: by reconnecting the landlocked new states of the region to their neighbors and historic trading partners, the heart of Asia can become a land corridor connecting Europe to Asia. This was the rationale behind the EU’s visionary but poorly implemented TRACECA project (Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Asia). Since 1998, when the EU co-hosted a conference in Baku on the “Restoration of the Historical Silk Road,” the term “New Silk Road” has gradually gained currency in various projects. Indeed, the past several years have seen a competition of initiatives. The U.S. launched its New Silk Road (NSR) initiative in 2010, which nevertheless failed to get the endorsement from the Presidential level needed for its success. Three years later, China launched the Silk Road Economic Belt, itself part of China’s broader “One Belt, One Road” initiative. More recently, following Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the region, India has also begun to formulate its own version of Eurasia’s emerging web of transport while Pakistan is pursuing a similar but as yet uncoordinated course. It is remarkable that the EU, which pioneered the concept of reopening continental transport a generation ago, is now absent from the list of leaders of this grand project.
Overland trade links offer great potential benefits, but the future corridors are still only in a formative stage. Approximately 90% of the cargo from Europe to China is transported by ship via the Suez Canal; most of the remaining volume is flown by air, without stopping in Central Asia. The overland corridors tra-versing Central Asia are shorter compared to sea routes, but are presently inefficient and, in some cases, relatively expensive. Several obstacles must be overcome in order to make overland transport corridors genuinely competitive. Notable among these are slow borders, but other causes for delay range from impediments in the legal, economic, tax, organizational, and banking sectors to issues with security and communications. Furthermore, there is to create integrated and competitive intermodal transportation and logistics networks across the region. The fact that Central Asia is landlocked compounds these problems, but the heart of the problem is that bottlenecks in one section of a given route end up affecting the entire route and those trading along it.
Thus, overland trade is still in its infancy. This is in spite of China’s increasing trading ties with Eastern and Central Europe, which would be particularly suitable for overland or intermodal transport. China’s trade with Eastern and Central Europe increased nearly tenfold from 2002 to 2013, from $6.8 billion to $58 billion, while its trade with all CIS countries together expanded from $16 billion to $153.5 billion during the same period of time.
Initiatives to ameliorate the situation have been many. But importantly, initia-tives from within the region itself have played a crucial role. All Central Asian states have formulated and begun to implement transport plans and strategies, which have resulted in improved connectivity within the region and new links to Afghanistan. The integration of road and rail networks stands out as particularly promising. Examples include the recently inaugurated Zhezkazgan-Beineu and Arkalyk-Shubarkol rail links in Kazakhstan, completed at a cost of $2.7 billion. The section between Shalkar and Beyneu alone will reduce the transport distance between China and Europe by more than 1,000 kilometers (625mi).
A second and equally important Eurasian land corridor is that which connects India/Pakistan with Europe and the Middle East. Traditionally, Central Asia played a significant role in this ‘southern corridor.’ while development of this route lags at least a decade behind the China-Europe corridor, its long-term potential may be even greater, given the striking demographic characteristics of the Indian Subcontinent as compared with China. Turkmenistan’s new road and railroad, the Pakistan port of Gwadar, Afghanistan’s ring road, and the TAPI pipeline are all elements in this future emerging and vitally important corridor.
In 2011, Kazakhstan completed construction of the 293km (182mi) Zhetygen-Korgas rail link, which connects southern Kazakhstan with the Chinese bor-der—thereby opening a second China-Europe link across its territory in addi-tion to the Alashankou border crossing. The construction of the $1.9 billion Angren-Pap rail link in Uzbekistan, which will connect Uzbekistan’s portion of the Ferghana Valley with the rest of the country, has been approved, and the 928km (576mi) Uzen-Bereket-Gorgan railway now links Kazakhstan and Iran via Turkmenistan.
To the West, opportunities for transit across the Caspian Sea have increased considerably. Kazakhstan has developed the port of Aqtau; Turkmenistan has substantially upgraded the port at Turkmenbashi; and Azerbaijan has built a major new port facility at Alat, south of Baku. Together, these three states have invested tens of billions of dollars in port development. Adding to this are the newly expanded Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi, and the projected port of Anaklia.
These developments dovetail with the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railroad, which will connect the Azerbaijani and Georgian railroads directly to the Turkish rail net-work; and the Marmaray project, which is digging a tunnel beneath the Bospo-rus that will connect the European and Asian sections of the Turkish railroad system. When these two projects are completed, a high-capacity railroad link from the shores of the Caspian to the European Union will be operational. Fur-thermore, the existing railroad connections to Georgia’s Black Sea coast provide the opportunity to develop the maritime linkages to the Central and East European railroad system, particularly the Viking Railroad. This Railroad, forming a Baltic-Black Sea link, connects Lithuania with Ukraine via Belarus, a 1776km-run over 52 hours.
From a European perspective, a number of steps can be taken to further the development of continental trade. A key question is the placement of logistics hubs in the region. Being centrally located and bordering every Central Asian country including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan has considerable potential. And for future links between Europe and South Asia, Turkmenistan is also centrally located. Yet as European leaders consider the expansion of trade and transportation links, Kazakhstan occupies a unique position in at least three ways. First, by virtue of geography, Kazakhstan forms a one-country link between China and the Caspian Sea. Second, Kazakhstan is the Central Asian country that has gone the farthest in terms of deepening institutional cooperation with the EU, as evidenced by the signing of an enhanced EU-Kazakhstan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement this week. Third, in a regional context Kazakhstan offers an improving business environment crucial to the establishment of a trading hub: In the World Bank’s Doing Business 2016 ranking, Kazakhstan jumped 12 positions from 53rd the previous year up to 41st. If the EU were to take a more strategic approach to continental transport and trade, it will be natural to focus initially on the partnership with Kazakhstan. Importantly, this should not occur at the expense of a focus on other regional countries, but as a first step in what must ultimately be a regional effort that includes all Central Asian states, including Afghanistan.
The heady potential has fed the prevailing enthusiasm, but it has also caused all parties involved to underestimate the challenges that must be addressed before such potential can be achieved. Four issues in particular deserve greater attention.
While the program thus far has been dominated by governmental initiatives, future success will be determined as much or more by market realities, and will depend on the private sector. Therefore, the first challenge is to embrace and build upon the inevitable shift from activities initiated and funded by governments to market-driven activities in many spheres, which must exist for the project as a whole to succeed.
Second, it will be necessary to develop “soft infrastructures” along the route itself. Given its location and its status as the largest transit country between Europe and China, Kazakhstan is a likely and suitable locus for such activities, which should be developed both by Kazakhstan-based businesses and by Ka-zakhstan-Europe partnerships in many fields. The development of such busi-nesses will benefit shippers in the East and West and at the same time be essen-tial to garnering the local support within Kazakhstan, which will be instrumental if the New Silk Road is to be sustainable.
Third, the geopolitics of transport and trade must be fully understood and their importance acknowledged by clear-headed policies. It is in the interest of both Europe and Central Asia to ensure that no power gains the ability to monopolize or control the emerging East-West transport corridors. This means utilizing the existing road and rail links to Northern Europe via the Russian Federation. But it also calls for balancing that route with the emerging corridor to Europe via the Caucasus and Turkey. Failure to achieve such balance will imperil the success of the entire project.
Finally, to assure that both present and future phases of the project are informed by the insights to be gained from the analysis of longer-term developments on the Eurasian continent, and specifically the likely rise of the Indian sub-continent as a major economic force by the year 2040. Acknowledging this emerging reality, the European Union, Kazakhstan, and other Central Asian states should combine forces to advance the opening of the most direct and efficient transit corridors between Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Indian sub-continent. These should be understood as an essential but separate supplement to the Silk Road Corridor, and their creation should be a task for the transit countries themselves.
The successful development of continental trade requires close and effective coordination between the European Union and the transit countries of Central Asia. Such coordination must be based on their common interests as defined through careful analyses by both sides and by close consultation between them. Rather than define their common interests narrowly in terms of trade, the two sides should extend the inquiry into all matters that will be affected by the opening of Eurasian land corridors, including nearly all sectors of their economies, diversification, governmental institutions, national and regional security, and demography.


Read 23461 times Last modified on Wednesday, 13 January 2016 05:56





  • New Article Series on Changing Geopolitics of Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Wednesday, 24 November 2021 11:53


  • CACI Initiative on Religion and the Secular State in Central Asia and the Caucasus
    Sunday, 24 January 2021 13:53

    In 2016, the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program launched an initiative on documenting the interrelationship of religion and the secular state in the region. This initiative departed from the fact that little systematic reserch had been undertaken on the subject thus far. While there was and remains much commentary and criticism of religious policy in the region, there was no comprehensive analysis available on the interrelationship of religion and the state in any regional state, let alone the region as a whole. The result of this initiative has been the publication of six Silk Road Papers studying the matter in regional states, with more to come. In addition, work is ongoing on a volume putting the regional situation in the context of the Muslim world as a whole.


    Case Studies

    Each study below can be freely downloaded in PDF format.


    Azerbaijan's Formula: Secular Governance and Civil Nationhood
    By Svante E. Cornell, Halil Karaveli, and Boris Ajeganov
    November 2016   

    2018-04-Kazakhstan-SecularismReligion and the Secular State in Kazakhstan
    By Svante E. Cornell, S. Frederick Starr and Julian Tucker
    April 2018




    1806-UZ-coverReligion and the Secular State in Uzbekistan
    Svante E. Cornell and Jacob Zenn
    June 2018




    2006-Engvall-coverReligion and the Secular State in Kyrgyzstan
    Johan Engvall
    June 2020

     Event video online


    2006-Clement-coverReligion and the Secular State in Turkmenistan
    Victoria Clement
    June 2020

    Event video online




    Articles and Analyses

    Svante E. Cornell, "Religion and the State in Central Asia," in Ilan Berman, ed., Wars of Ideas: Theology, Interpretation and Power in the Muslim World, Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2021.

    Svante E. Cornell, "Central Asia: Where Did Islamic Radicalization Go?" in Religion, Conflict and Stability in the Former Soviet Union, eds. Katya Migacheva and Bryan Frederick, Arlington, VA: RAND Corporation, 2018.

  • Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories
    Wednesday, 07 October 2020 09:01

    Rehab-coverIn 2010, the CACI-SRSP Joint Center cooperated with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus to produce a study of the methodology and process for the rehabilitation of the occupied territories in Azerbaijan. The study was written in the hope that it would prove useful in the aftermath of a negotiated solution to the conflict.

    Such a resolution nevertheless did not materialize. At present, however, it appears that some of these territories are returning to Azerbaijani control as a result of the military conflict that began in late September, 2020. While it is regrettable that this did not come to pass as a result of negotiations, it is clear that the challenge of rehabilitating territories is as pressing today as it would be in the event of a peaceful resolution - if not more, given the likelihood that such a solution would have included a time-table and provided the Government of Azerbaijan and international institutions time for planning.

    It is clear that the study is a product of a different time, as much has changed since 2010. We fully expcect many updates and revisions to be needed should the recommendations in this study be implemented today. That said, we believe the methodoloy of the study and its conclusions remain relevant and would therefore like to call attention to this important study, published in English, Russian and Azerbaijani versions.

    Click to download:



  • Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict
    Monday, 05 October 2020 08:19

    Resources on the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict


    The Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program have a long track record of covering the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict. This page presents the key resources and most recent analysis. 

    In 2017, Palgrave published the first book-length study of the International Politics of the Armenia-Azerbaijan Conflict, edited by Svante Cornell. The book concluded by arguing that if international efforts to resolve the conflict are not stepped up, “the ‘four-day’ war of April 2016 will appear a minor skirmish compared to what is sure to follow”.

    In 2015, CACI & SRSP released the Silk Road Paper  “A Western Strategy for the South Caucasus”, which included a full page of recommendations for the U.S. and EU on the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict. These are reproduced below:


    Develop a substantial and prolonged Western initiative on the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict.

    o This initiative must be led by the United States, in close consultation with its European partners – primarily the EU Commission and External Action Service, and France. Barring some process to reinvigorate the Minsk Process – a doubtful proposition given Western-Russian relations in the foreseeable future – Western leaders must be prepared to bypass that process, utilizing it where appropriate but focusing their initiative on developing direct negotiations between the Armenian and Azerbaijani leaders.

    o The U.S. and its European partners must abandon the practice of relying solely on the Minsk Group co-chairs to resolve the Karabakh conflict. These diplomats have contributed greatly to formulating a workable framework agreement. However, strong and sustained U.S. Government leadership from the top level is needed to complement or, failing that, to replace the Minsk Process. In practice, this means the expressed support of the President, involvement of the White House, and leadership manifested in the appointment of a distinguished citizen as Special Envoy for the resolution of the conflict.

    o The EU must take a more clearly defined and substantial role in the process, by integrating to the highest degree possible the French co-chairmanship of the Minsk Group with EU institutions. While Washington will need to take the lead on the political side, it would be natural for the EU to take the lead in organizing an international development program for the currently occupied Azerbaijani provinces and Karabakh itself. That effort, too, would need to be led by a senior EU figure.


    In 2011, CACI & SRSP helped launch an extensive study of the steps needed for the post-conflict rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's occupied territories, in cooperation with Eldar Ismailov and Nazim Muzaffarli of the Institute for Strategic Studies of the Caucasus. The monograph "Basic Principles for the Rehabilitation of Azerbaijan's Post-Conflict Territories" can be accessed here


    More background resources:

    Svante E. Cornell, "Can America Stop a Wider War Between Armenia and Azerbaijan?", The National Interest, October 2020

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, Occupied Elsewhere: Selective Policies on Occupation, Foundation For Defense of Democracies, January 2020. 

    Brenda Shaffer and Svante E. Cornell, "The U.S. Needs to Declare War on Proxies", Foreign Policy, January 27, 2020

    Svante E. Cornell, “The Raucous Caucasus”, American Interest, May 2017

    Svante E. Cornell, Small Nations and Great Powers: A Study of Ethnopolitical Conflict in the Caucasus, RoutledgeCurzon, 2001.

    Svante E. Cornell, The Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Uppsala University, 1999

    More recent analysis:

    Turkey Seeks to Counter Russia in the Black Sea-Caucasus Region,” Turkey Analyst, 10/5/20, Emil Avdaliani

    Turkey’s Commitment to Azerbaijan’s Defense Shows the Limits of Ankara’s Tilt to Moscow,” Turkey Analyst, 9/25/20, Turan Suleymanov & Bahruz Babayev

     “Cross-Border Escalation between Armenia and Azerbaijan,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 9/25/20, Natalia Konarzewska

    Russia and Turkey: Behind the Armenia-Azerbaijan Clashes?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 8/31/20, Avinoam Idan

    Armenia and the U.S.: Time for New Thinking?”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 10/2/19, Eduard Abrahamyan.

    Why Washington Must Re-Engage the CaucasusCentral Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 7/8/19, Stephen Blank

    Azerbaijan’s Defense Industry Reform”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 5/7/19, Tamerlan Vahabov.

    Military Procurements on Armenia's and Azerbaijan's Defense Agendas”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/27/19, Ilgar Gurbanov

    Armenia's New Government Struggles with Domestic and External Opposition,” Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 3/20/19, Armen Grigorian.

    Bolton's Caucasian Tour and Russia's Reaction”, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 12/17/18, Eduard Abrahamyan.