Currently, there are three main inland transport routes connecting Asia and Europe: the Northern Corridor (through Russia), the Southern Corridor (through Iran), and the Middle Corridor (through Central Asia and South Caucasus).
The unavoidable spillover effects of the ongoing military conflict in Ukraine have brought to the fore issues of the safety of freight traffic along the Northern Corridor. Cargo transportation along the Southern Corridor is problematic due to sanctions against Iran in the crisis-prone Middle East, thus increasing the significance of the Middle Corridor of Türkiye, which runs through Central Asia, the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus, and further into Europe.
Türkiye, in line with its geographical location between continents and regions, supports the development of regional transportation projects. In this regard, Türkiye aims to sustain not only commercial, economic and investment relations but also political and cultural relations between and beyond her surrounding regions.
Trans-Caspian East-West-Middle Corridor Initiative shortly named as “The Middle Corridor”, which begins in Türkiye and passes through the Caucasus region via Georgia, Azerbaijan, crosses the Caspian Sea, traverses Central Asia and reaches China, is one of the most important component of the efforts to revive the ancient Silk Road.
It passes by rail and road respectively through Georgia, Azerbaijan and Caspian Sea, (crossing the Caspian transit corridor) and reaches China by following Turkmenistan-Uzbekistan-Kyrgyzstan or Kazakhstan route. On this route, ports of Baku/Alat (in Azerbaijan), Aktau/ Kuryk (in Kazakhstan) and Turkmenbashi (in Turkmenistan) are the main points of multimodal transport on Caspian transit corridor.
These ports provide multimodal transport capabilities, which allow for the seamless movement of goods across different modes of transportation, such as rail, road, and sea. This, in turn, makes a cost-effective and efficient route for trade, particularly for landlocked countries in the region that rely heavily on transportation networks for international trade.
Another advantage of the Middle Corridor in comparison to the Northern Corridor is the fact that it is 2,000 kilometers shorter. Also, the Middle Corridor benefits from favorable climate conditions and shortens travel time by 15 days when compared to sea routes. This fact is of crucial importance due to the fact that about 96% of China’s container trade with Europe went via sea routes.
The integral part of the Middle Corridor is the Southern Gas Corridor — a significant energy project. It connects gas fields in Azerbaijan via a pipeline which connects Azerbaijan’s vast natural gas fields on the Caspian Sea with the EU via Georgia, Türkiye, and eventually reaching Italy via the Mediterranean.
Yet another major factor affecting the geopolitical mix of the region is the emerging role of the relatively new union — the Organization of the Turkic States (OTS). With the exception of Georgia all states connecting China with Europe via Middle Corridor are Turkic states. The OTS has adopted the common policy regarding the issue and has been very busy implementing practical steps to increase its overall effectiveness in very near terms.
Connecting the Middle Corridor to India
The Middle Corridor consists of two lines. The Northern line, which is routed as China-Kazakhstan-Caspian Sea-Azerbaijan, and the Southern Line as China-Kyrgyzstan-Uzbekistan-Turkmenistan-Caspian Sea-Azerbaijan. In addition to these lines, there is another extension of the Middle Corridor which is the “Lapis Lazuli Corridor”, known as the Türkiye-Georgia-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan-Afghanistan Transit Transport Corridor. Lapis Lazuli Corridor offers Afghanistan an opportunity to reach the seas and to open up to the world. Actually, the name “Lapis Lazuli” is derived from the historic route that Afghanistan's lapis lazuli and other semiprecious stones were exported along to the Caucasus, Russia, the Balkans, Europe, and North Africa along the ancient Silk Road.
The corridor begins from Torghundi in western Herat Province of Afghanistan, and continues to the port (on the Caspian Sea) of Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan; after passing the Caspian Sea, the route continues on to Baku, capital of Azerbaijan, and then connects onward to Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, as well as the Georgian ports of Poti and Batumi; finally, the corridor will connect to the cities of Kars and Istanbul, Türkiye, at the entrance of Europe.
While the global dynamics are changing today and the world’s geopolitical, geostrategic and geoeconomic power is shifting from the West to the East, India, which has turned into one of the production hubs of the world, needs safe and low-cost supply corridors to export the goods it manufactures.
Taking into account India’s expectations from the development of the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) to reach Russia and Europe, combining INSTC and Lapis Lazuli will provide significant advantages.
For Lapis Lazuli to reach India, it has to pass through Afghanistan and Pakistan. The extension of this route to India will bring various gains in terms of economy and security.
In today’s world, where the importance of the Middle Corridor is increasing, the inclusion of the growing powers of Asia such as India will increase the potential of the corridor. In this way, India will be able to reach Russia via Central Asia, and Europe via the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus at the least cost, in the shortest time, and via the most stable line.
On the other hand, Afghanistan is the most important source of threat for both Central Asia, South Asia and Eurasia. The economic and humanitarian crisis in the country brings radicalization with it. The said threat carries significant risks, especially for Pakistan and India. The inclusion of Afghanistan in regional cooperation projects is the healthiest way to end the humanitarian crisis and possible threats in the country.
Decreasing tension in the region and consequential economic recovery will contribute to the improvement of the security environment and prevent radicalization.
(Cüneyt Yavuzcan is the Consul General of Türkiye)