South Front reported that the state-owned Russian Railways company abandoned its €1.2 billion plan to modernize Iran’s rail network last week in response to American sanctions, but India is just as much to blame for this surprise decision as America is because Moscow might have kept the course had New Delhi displayed the political will to defy its new military-strategic ally and remain committed to the North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC).
Many Russia watchers were taken by surprise after South Front reported that the state-owned Russian Railways company abandoned its €1.2 billion plan to modernize Iran’s rail network last week in response to American sanctions. The Alt-Media outlet quoted the reliable Interfax in informing its readers about the importance of this project, writing that it concerned the “electrification of the Garmsar-Inche Burun railway line with a length of 495 km and routes to ports”. This investment was under the umbrella of the larger North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC), the name given to the series of connectivity projects for linking India with Russia and Central Asia via the Islamic Republic, as well as pioneering an overland shortcut for Indian-European trade, so pulling out of it will undoubtedly have a negative impact on that vision’s eventual fulfillment. It’s for this reason why Russian Railways’ announcement is much more strategically significant than one might have initially thought upon first reading the news and why it deserves to be analyzed in the context of ever-changing Eurasian geopolitics.
Instead of solely blaming the US, however, observers should also lay equal — if not more — blame at India for failing to display the political will to defy its new military-strategic ally and remain committed to the NSTC. Had it done so, then Moscow might have kept the course and considered devising a solution to this “secondary sanctions” problem, but there’s no point in doing so as long as India already seems to have found an alternative to it instead. The South Asian state dutifully obeyed America’s demands to cut off its energy imports from the Islamic Republic last year, thereby exacerbating the country’s ongoing economic crisis which might soon have political ramifications there under the worst-case scenario after Tehran was deprived of billions of dollars of much-needed revenue as a result of that decision. Trump’s trip to India last week symbolized the completion of that country’s geopolitical pivot towards the US, after which it became unrealistic to expect India to ever go against its will regarding anything of relevance with Iran without having America’s tacit approval first. That explains why Russian Railways pulled out of the project during the same time as that visit despite the latest US sanctions taking effect a month prior in early January.
India’s interests won’t be harmed all that much by this development, though, since it’s already eyeing the Trans-Arabian Corridor (TAC) as a much quicker, less risky, and more economical alternative to the NSTC. The author analyzed in mid-December that “The Indo-‘Israeli’ Trans-Arabian Corridor Will Push Russia Closer To Pakistan” after New Delhi signaled interest in participating in Tel Aviv’s envisaged trade corridor for connecting the Eastern Mediterranean to the Gulf and thus further afield to the Afro-Asian (“Indian”) Ocean, which will in turn necessitate Russia’s reaction of relying more on the prospective N-CPEC+ corridor for connecting itself to that body of water via the global pivot state of Pakistan instead of going through the Islamic Republic. This aforementioned option becomes much more viable following last weekend’s Afghan peace deal between the US and the Taliban, which President Putin’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov praised as “directly beneficial for Russia“. Bearing in mind the multi-billion-dollar deals that Russia and Pakistan clinched in December following the visit of a 64-member Russian delegation to Islamabad, which the author elaborated on in his piece a month later about how “This Five-Phrase Strategy Can Strengthen Russian-Pakistani Trade Ties“, Moscow also has an alternative to the NSTC just like New Delhi does, hence its recent decision regarding Iran.
Nevertheless, it should be explicitly stated that Russia never had any intention to replace the NSTC with N-CPEC+, but simply thought that the two trans-continental connectivity initiatives could complement one another in facilitating its “Afro-Eurasian” vision for the emerging Multipolar World Order. The catalyst for the latest changes to its strategic calculation are certainly the US’ “secondary sanctions” threats, but they wouldn’t have been successful in this respect had India not folded first and began exploring the possibility of replacing the NSTC with the TAC. Trump’s highly successful visit to India last week convinced the Kremlin that there wasn’t any realistic hope of ever reviving the NSTC to the extent that it was initially envisaged, hence why it undertook the difficult decision of pulling out of its €1.2 billion plan to modernize Iran’s rail network, though only after it too had begun to explore the alternative of replacing the NSTC with N-CPEC+ in response to India’s moves. Had New Delhi not dutifully complied with the US’ sanctions demands, then it and Moscow could have conceivably cooperated to devise a workaround to these threats and thus saved the NSTC, but because India lacked the political will to do so, it made sense that Russia would also de-facto abandon this project as well.
By Andrew Korybko
Source: One World