By Matthew Ehret – Originally published on The Cradle

On 12 December 2022, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) hosted a conference on the future of Eurasia’s Middle Corridor, a transport and energy infrastructure development project that stretches from the resource-rich Caspian Sea to Europe.

At the meeting, leading Atlanticist officials paid particular attention to how to ‘frame’ this strategic global transportation hub developing outside of their control.

They emphasized that the nations standing most to gain by the inevitable growth of the Middle Corridor should not characterize themselves as an east-west “regional hub” connecting Europe to China, but rather as a standalone zone of wealth – independent of China, and supportive of a declining EU.

The value of the Middle Corridor has increased significantly in the past year due to two main factors. First, the Russian military intervention in Ukraine, and second, the urgency to “decarbonizing” those nations still trapped within the Atlanticist sphere of influence.

Map of the Middle Corridor (Photo Credit: The Cradle)
Map of the Middle Corridor (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

The Middle Corridor gets its name from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which was launched in 2013. It consists of three corridors of development designed to promote trade and inter-civilizational commerce on an east-west basis. These corridors are the Northern Corridor, the Southern Corridor, and the Middle Corridor.

Map of BRI Corridors (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

The Three Arteries of the New Silk Road

The Northern Corridor: Currently the most developed and utilized of the three corridors, it consists of railways and pipelines that run from China to Kazakhstan, Russia, and Europe. Some Atlanticist geopoliticians would like to see this corridor shut down to further isolate ‘new enemy’ Russia’s transportation and commercial routes.

The Southern Corridor: Less developed but still important, this corridor involves the construction of continuous rail connections from China to Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and potentially Turkey, before reaching Europe through ports in Lebanon and Syria, and via land-based connections in Turkey.

This route has the potential to promote sustainable peace and reconstruction in West Asian nations, and could possibly be extended to integrate and industrialize the Persian Gulf states through large-scale high-speed railway projects like the 2000 km Persian Gulf-Red Sea high-speed railway, and hasten development prospects in the strategic Horn of Africa.

The Middle Corridor: The most complicated but no less essential of these arteries is the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), dubbed “the Middle Corridor” and features multimodal rail and sea transit of goods from China to Europe via Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, and Turkey.

Although this path involves the shortest distance, complications and additional costs arise with the complex process of transitioning from land routes to sea routes via ports in the Caspian Sea.

In recent months, the nations along the Middle Corridor have worked to harmonize their interests and coordinate their efforts to tap, process, and move the energy resources in the Caspian Sea (which contains the fourth largest natural gas reserves in the world).

On 30 March 2022, a quadrilateral agreement was signed between Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Georgia to advance the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway system, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline, and the Trans Anatolian National Gas Pipeline (TANAP), which is already in operation. The TANAP is part of the larger Southern Gas Corridor, which involves seven countries and consists of 3500 km of pipelines worth $35 billion.

Gas pipelines from Russia and the South Caucasus to Europe, via Turkey (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

Some of the key projects within the Southern Gas Corridor include:

  1. The Shah Deniz 2 offshore gas and oil well operations in the Caspian Sea, where Azerbaijan, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan are working towards finalizing a broader agreement to resolve long-standing disputes.
  2. The expansion of natural gas processing plants at the Sangachal Terminal in the Caspian Sea.
  3. The expansion of gas transmission networks in Italy.
  4. The development of new connections into the gas networks of southern and western Europe.
  5. Four major pipelines, including the South Caucasus Pipeline (SCPX) involving Azerbaijan and Georgia, the TANAP involving Turkey, the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) involving Greece, Albania, and Italy, and the Greece-Bulgaria Gas Interconnector.

The importance of the INSTC

In addition to these three east-west corridors, the much anticipated Russia-Azerbaijan-Armenia-Iran-India International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) has also seen significant growth in recent years, with an additional eastern extension now stretching from Russia to Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Iran, and India.

Map of INSTC (Photo Credit: The Cradle)

Once goods from Russia reach Iran via either the western or eastern branches of the INSTC, they can be delivered to markets in India, South Asia, and East Africa through the Ports of Chabahar and Bandar Abbas on the Indian Ocean.

Contrary to the claims of some Atlantic Council-affiliated analysts, the east-west BRI corridors and the north-south INSTC are highly synergistic and united in a grand strategic outlook for broad Eurasian growth and integration in a post-zero sum game world order.

The “Green Belt Initiative”

After US President Joe Biden’s inauguration in January 2020, a new concept called “Build Back Better” was introduced from the corridors of highly paid commercial agencies. The oft-repeated term was ambiguously defined, but it was embraced by technocratic leaders of Atlanticist states, including Canada’s Justin Trudeau, the UK’s Boris Johnson, and the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen. The concept was later rebranded as “Build Back Better for the World” (B3W).

Despite its warm and fuzzy image, the Global Green New Deal and B3W failed to gain traction due to a lack of concrete action plans or details on how to finance and demonstrate the viability of the grand vision.

In March 2021, Biden and Boris Johnson unveiled a new program called the “Green Belt Initiative,” which they described as a response to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. When asked for details on how to fund the $3 trillion in investments required to make the “green transition” to a world dependent on solar panels and windmills, no specifics were provided.

Once again, the concept was under defined, but the image presented was one of a green revolution expected to usher in a new era of “clean zero carbon infrastructure” led by utopian rules-based orderistas of the transatlantic west.

Within the framing of the B3W branding, “Global Green New Deal” was often celebrated as a warm and fuzzy concept which former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney heralded as a $130 trillion renaissance into a post-hydrocarbon age.

In September 2021, the EU’s Ursula von der Leyen announced the “Global Green Gateway” as Europe’s response to the BRI. However, this initiative faced criticism for ignoring the hundreds of thousands of engineers trained by China in Africa over the past decade, and for projecting the historic predatory lending practices of Europe onto China.

Von der Leyen stated: “We want to create links and not dependencies… It does not make sense for Europe to build roads between a Chinese-owned copper mine and a Chinese-owned harbor.”

Despite this, the Global Green Gateway failed to propose a viable lending mechanism or staff, and soon faded away, similar to the Build Back Better and Global Green New Deals before it.

On 26 June, 2022, the global situation had changed dramatically as Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine was already four months old and the erection of a new Iron Curtain attempting to cut Europe off from both Russia and China was in full swing. Despite these developments, the demand for nations to access affordable and reliable energy and food had risen higher than ever.

In response, the White House released its newest rebranding of the B3W in the form of a G7-led program now titled “The Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment”.

This program promised $600 billion over five years to recipient nations in Africa, Southwest Asia, Latin America, East Asia, and Eastern Europe to build digital infrastructure, telecommunications, green energy, and soft infrastructure with a focus on gender equity.

The goal of this program was to provide poor nations with an alternative to China’s alleged predatory lending ambitions. However, few of the nations offered this “life raft” have shown much interest so far.

The Three Seas Initiative

In Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, the NATO-led Three Seas Initiative (3SI) was founded in 2014 as an ambitious effort to thwart the Middle Corridor. The 3SI includes 12 Eastern European states within the Black Sea-Adriatic Sea-Baltic Sea region.

While many of the dozens of highways, rail, and gas projects featured in the 3SI are objectively beneficial to participating nations and all of Eurasia, the fact is that those NATO and Atlantic Council operatives promoting the grand design are only doing so from an anti-Eurasian geopolitical agenda.

In June 2022, Ukraine was made a partner member of the 3SI group, and funds were set up to accumulate private capital to invest in this trillion-dollar investment scheme to integrate the energy and transportation corridors of the region as a hub for supplying Europe with energy while also building a wall to cut off the broader New Silk Road corridors.

During a 3SI Summit that month, the foreign ministers of Poland and Romania released a joint statement saying:

“The 3SI is part of our response to the need for developing energy, transport, and digital infrastructure that will be more climate-friendly, fully aligned with the goals of the Paris Agreement and the European Green Deal.”

While the 3SI is directed towards consolidating controls over the Eastern European EU member states (plus Ukraine), once again, very little information has been made public regarding how the various infrastructure projects will be funded.

The 3SI Fund, created in 2019 to gain support from the private sector (which is expected to provide the vast majority of financing for these green new deal projects), is still far from achieving even a fraction of its goals.

Building a “Green Barrier” to Actual Development

On 7 December, 2022, the World Bank released a report titled “Azerbaijan: Towards Green Growth” in which the authors stated that the:

“Global transition towards a low-emissions economic model offers opportunities for Azerbaijan to be globally and regionally competitive. To make the best of it, Azerbaijan needs to focus on decarbonizing and diversifying the economy, bolstering innovation, and natural and human capital development.”

From this Green New Deal agenda, Azerbaijan would certainly receive funding, but in doing so, it would be handicapped from developing its vast resources or playing a positive role in either the Middle Corridor or the INSTC.

Five days later, the World Bank agenda was re-emphasized by USAID at a conference co-sponsored with the Azerbaijan-US Chamber of Commerce, the White House, and the Embassy of Azerbaijan.

Sentiments of those wishing to cut Russia and China off the Middle Corridor hub could be heard in the words of Ian Rawlinson CCO at APM Terminals in Poti, Georgia who stated:

“It [Georgia] has always been considered as a satellite region of Russia. However, the region is very western centric. There are a lot of western companies settled in Central Asia, and there is a strong drive for western products… APM considers Central Asia as the last container is able region, with the biggest potential in terms of logistics. As it is landlocked, it is only reachable by rail. Kazakhstan for example exports 60 million tonnes of cargo to Europe. Much of it is still moving through Russia, but that can be changed to the Middle Corridor. This is also true for eastbound cargo to Kazakhstan.”

Efforts to intimidate, bribe, and threaten nations like Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, and Turkey into abandoning the concept of the Middle Corridor as a hub of China-led development are both self-destructive and absurd.

Ignoring the fact that the Middle Corridor would not exist if not for China’s leadership in the first place, these nations are being asked to see themselves as the end and starting point of a new pro-Atlanticist exclusive hub.

The leaders of the nations along the Middle Corridor have made it clear that they are happy to do business with Europe, but not at the expense of their relationships with either Russia or China.

Eurasian Integration Moves Forward

On 20 December, Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Kazakhstan released a joint statement offering all public and private interests across the globe a 20 percent discount on all freight transit costs for goods moving along the eastern branch of the INSTC.

This discount would apply to all goods moving across the Middle Corridor (involving the Russia-Kazakhstan-China connection), as well as the eastern INSTC (involving Russia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China), and also the South-Eastern INSTC featuring Russia, Iran, West Asia, East Africa, India, and South Asia.

While many Atlanticists would love nothing more than to see Georgia pried out of the grip of Eurasian influence, it is clear that Tbilisi’s interests lie in the east.

Last week it was reported that trade between Georgia, Russia, China, and Turkey grew by 32 percent (from January to September) over the same period in 2021, and that Georgia also enjoys the benefits of having signed an important free trade agreement with the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which includes Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkey.

Meanwhile, Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan trade volumes have increased over 620 percent (from $48 million in 2021 to $305.5 million in 2022) with much more room for growth as the Caspian development continues to grow with flows of energy resources to both Europe and China increasing significantly.

If Europe wishes to survive the coming decades, leadership will have to emerge that shrugs off the imposing pressures of the Anglo-American establishment, which seeks to stop the potential Europe-Russian-Chinese economic cooperation at all costs, even if it means the willful murder of millions of European citizens under an artificial imposition of energy scarcity, food scarcity, and war.

Nations of Central Asia and Southwest Asia have felt the burn of transatlantic imperial grand strategy for far too long and increasingly have come to recognize which pathway to the future is befitting their true interests – that of Eurasian integration.

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