Russia and Iran are upgrading their transport links

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Esince then a French diplomat and developer, Ferdinand de Lesseps, slid the Suez canal through​​​​​​​​ Egypt in 1869, connecting east and west, many Middle Eastern countries have tried to follow suit. Israel has recently broken out of cutting a canal from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea, or a rail link from its port at Haifa through Jordan and on to the Gulf. Iraq’s former transport minister is diligently promoting a scheme to carve a canal from the southern Iraqi port of Basra all the way to Turkey. The most serious initiative, however, is the Russo-Iranian one to connect the Caspian Sea to the Indian Ocean.

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After decades of feasibility studies, the joint fear of isolation by the Western powers is leading Russia and Iran to build a defense corridor. Since the West tightened sanctions on Russia after it invaded Ukraine, the ostracized pair has opened a ring road rail link through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Russia is upgrading its own ports with Iranian investment. An Iranian shipping company on the Caspian is boosting Iran’s cargo fleet. Russia is helping to build a 164km railway through Iran to its border with Azerbaijan on the shores of the Caspian. Once this is complete it will provide a sanctions-resistant rail link that will run from the Baltic down to Bandar Abbas on Iran’s Persian Gulf.

Annual Russian-Iranian trade has already jumped 20% in a year to nearly $5bn, says Emil Avdaliani, a Georgian thinker. Russian experts estimate that trade with Iran could exceed that with Turkey, worth $30bn. Last month, Russia brought refined oils (petrol and diesel) to Iran by rail, some of it for transport. It recently sent 12m tonnes of grain through Iran to India. Other projects include upgrading the Russian canals between the Don and Volga rivers that connect the Black Sea to the Caspian. Another rail link, to Iran’s southeastern port of Chabahar, could speed up Russian exports to India even more.

Russia once refused to invest in Iran’s infrastructure for fear of Western sanctions. But the war in Ukraine has put such warnings aside. He has encouraged Iran to send armed drones to strike Ukraine. Last year Russia was the largest foreign investor in Iran, far ahead of China. To avoid Western sanctions, the couple has released a financial messaging system as an alternative SWIFT. And both countries give voice to greatness at the same time in challenging a wicked world order.

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