After agreeing on a joint military center with Russia to monitor the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey is now eagerly awaiting the next step in the deal between its ally Azerbaijan and Armenia – the opening of a transport link which Ankara sees as a âcorridor strategyâ promising Turkey big economic gains and additional influence in the region.
The November 10 deal, negotiated by Russia, calls for the opening of transport links between Azerbaijan and the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan, an Azeri enclave separated from the mainland by a strip of Armenian land and sharing a tiny border with Turkey.
Ankara is overflowing with enthusiasm at the prospect of gaining a gateway to China, although the layout is rather ambiguous and not everyone in the region seems to share its enthusiasm.
the bed layout, âThe Republic of Armenia guarantees the security of transport links between the western regions of the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Autonomous Republic of Nakhichevan in order to organize the free movement of people, vehicles and goods in both directions. The Border Guard Service of the Russian Federal Security Service is responsible for monitoring transport links.
According to the Azeri president Ilham Aliyev, the provision announces “a new transport corridor” in the region. âAzerbaijan joins forces with Turkey. Russia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran and Armenians – if they wish – could join this corridor, âhe said on December 1, adding that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin had both welcomed the idea of ââsuch a five-part cooperation plan.
Moscow, however, has shown little public interest. Asked about the words of Aliyev, the Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment, saying only that Putin and Aliyev discussed unblocking transport links in the region.
Yet a optimistic outlook prevails in Turkey that the country will gain a strategic gateway to the Caspian Basin, the Turkish republics of Central Asia and China with the prospect of new pipelines and rail and road projects in the region. Some hope that Turkey’s plans will be further bolstered by the “hardline policy” that the administration of US President-elect Joe Biden will pursue against Russia.
The main points at the origin of these dreams could be summarized as follows:
A pipeline through the corridor could reduce Turkey’s energy costs. Turkey is paying $ 490 for 1,000 cubic meters of Iranian gas, while a conduit through Nakhichevan could reduce the cost to $ 335.
Gas from Turkmenistan could also be piped to Turkey.
The Nakhichevan corridor could strengthen Turkey’s hand when it negotiates the renewal of its gas contract with Iran in 2026.
US support transcaspian gas pipeline project could be relaunched.
The capacity of the Transanatolian natural gas pipeline, designed to bring Azeri gas to Europe via Turkey, could double to 32 billion cubic meters per year.
A 230 kilometer (143 mile) railway from Turkey to Nakhichevan could complete the railway connecting Baku, Tbilisi and the eastern Turkish city of Kars to the north and the Iran-Afghanistan-Pakistan route to the south, making Turkey a transit hub.
The pro-government daily Sabah was even bolder in its predictions. The corridor between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan âhas opened a strategic trade and energy route that will lead Turkey to Pacific shores“he wrote on December 2.” The equation of energy and trade is going to change fundamentally. The door to a gigantic market of 3 billion people will open wide for Turkey.
Turkey’s dreams, however, are Iran’s worries. For years, Iran has served as an alternate land link between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan, making profits and gaining influence over Baku. Iran now fears losing that leverage.
According to Iranian online newspaper Mashreq, Iran wins a 15% commission gas supplies from Azerbaijan to Nakhichevan. It also serves as a route for Turkish exports to Central Asia. An average of around 12,000 Turkish trucks use the route each month, with Iran charging a transit fee of up to $ 800 for their 1,800-kilometer (1,120-mile) journey to the Turkmen border. These revenues could now decrease.
For Iran Javan every day, Turkey threatens the geopolitical interests of Iran and Russia in accordance with Washington’s strategy; therefore, Tehran “will not accept such a corridor”.
Aside from the merits of Ankara’s strategic calculation, the most pressing question is how Russia and Armenia will view the planned corridor, which crosses Armenian territory – the 42-kilometer (26-mile) strip that the district of Zengezur forms between Nakhichevan and Azerbaijan. Yerevan has not yet expressed a position, still reeling from its defeat against Turkey-backed Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh.
According to Armenian-American analyst Richard Giragosian, âthe nature of such an Azerbaijani connection through Armenian territory remains dangerously blurry and indefinite, raising questions about sovereignty, legal status and policing. Because of these ambiguities and other issues, he sees “a clear need for direct negotiations and other agreements.”
The status of Nagorno-Karabakh – left unanswered in the agreement – is the main obstacle to Turkey’s corridor ambitions. The parties have yet to reach a lasting settlement to ensure peace in the region. Expecting Armenia to allow free use of its territory before such a settlement is reached does not seem realistic.
Second, normalizing ties with Yerevan could become a prerequisite for Ankara to advance its ambitions. Ending the Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh was the condition that Erdogan imposed on the reconciliation protocols which Ankara and Yerevan signed in 2009 but failed to implement. Keeping Turkish-Armenian relations off the table could prove difficult in any negotiation over corridor plans.
Conversely, the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and Turkish-Armenian relations could fundamentally change the regional dynamic, creating a win-win effect for Turkey, Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia. and Georgia.
Even that, however, would not close the big gap between Ankara’s exaggerated strategic ambitions and the realities of the region.
For starters, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan aren’t really scrambling to find pipelines to meet extraordinary energy demands. Likewise, Turkish manufacturers are not desperately looking for means of transportation to meet some kind of boom in Central Asian demand for Turkish products.
In addition, will Russia accept competing projects in the Caspian? Russian energy giants such as Gazprom, Transneft and Lukoil do business in Azerbaijan. The Russians have a stake in the Azerbaijani state-owned energy company SOCAR, which in turn has a stake in the Russian oil refinery Antipinsky. And criticism is mounting in Russia that Moscow has already given too many concessions to Turkey. Political commentator Konstantin von Eggert, for example, said he believed the outcome in Nagorno-Karabakh to be “a geopolitical disasterFor Moscow and that “Turkey has gained a very important foothold in the region”. With Turkey, regional actors such as Iran and China can now be emboldened to “gain a foothold in the region, in Central Asia and the South Caucasus, without consulting Moscow too much or fearing the repercussions of the Kremlin” , did he declare.
In addition, Azerbaijan’s Caspian neighbors use Russian conduits for energy supply to Europe and increasingly look to China for long-term partnerships. The decline in energy demand from Europe, combined with the promise of large-scale purchases from China, reduces the prospects for pipelines crossing Turkey, in particular the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline and the Baku-Erzurum pipeline, as well as the Trans-Anatolian Gas Pipeline.
For Turkish energy expert Muhdan Saglam, Turkey’s attitude is “too optimistic” and ignores Turkmenistan’s ties with China as well as Russian and Iranian interests in the Caspian. âIt is said that the gas flow could increase to 32 billion cubic meters, but with what gas? Azerbaijan’s capacity is insufficient, while Turkmenistan works with Chinaâ¦ and lacks such a prospect. They are all looking to Asia Pacific, âSaglam told Al-Monitor.
Moreover, she said, Europe does not have a supply shortage; on the contrary, its demand is decreasing. âAt best, some of the shipments to Russia could be rerouted. For this, a new conduit is needed from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan to connect to the “transanatolian natural gas pipeline,” she added.
Referring to hopes of reviving the Trans-Caspian submarine pipeline project between Turkmenistan and Azerbaijan, Saglam said its cost has already been daunting, while Turkmenistan’s overall approach is “to have a partnership without problem with China and not to irritate Russia “. In addition, Turkmenistan is focusing on increasing the capacity of its gas pipeline with China, she added.
The enthusiasm for new railways is also questionable because the existing Baku-Tbilisi-Kars road has not yet acquired strategic weight. It is unclear which countries will use these transport links and for what purposes. And while Turkey places these projects in the context of a modern Silk Road, it lacks a leading role in the sprawling China Belt and Road initiative.