Baku and Ashgabat discussed Lapis Lazuli project
One-day visit of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev to Ashgabat turned out to be highly productive in terms of bilateral agreements. Agreements mainly concerned issues of cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in the Caspian Sea. Previously, relations between Baku and Ashgabat had a pretty stable nature, but now Ilham Aliyev and Gurbanguly Berdymuhamedov focused on development of transport corridors - Lapis Lazuli and Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania.
Researcher at the Economics Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Alexander Karavayev, believes that Turkmenistan is focused on using its full transit potential. "Lapis Lazuli is an attempt to bring Turkmenistan out of transport isolation by connecting it to main routes of Central Asia - "One Belt - One Road" and "North-South." There is, however, threat that secondary routes won't bear desired results. But they still will be important in their own way, so neglecting their capabilities would be wrong, even though they're not as huge as trans-regional routes," he said.
Expert also believes that logistics of the Caspian Sea, in particular routes connecting ports like Alyat and Turkmenbashi, are extremely important. The problems is that as of right now there's nothing to deliver but sulfur, at least at regular schedules. Turkmenistan is counting on transit of goods, bearing in mind that, Uzbekistan, for example, is considering Turkmen direction as the main one when it comes to access to the Middle East. “It also has high hopes for the Afghan transit. Despite complicated relations between Russia and the United States, fuel supplies to the NATO group in Afghanistan are still carried out through the Volga-Don Canal," Karavayev noted.
In his opinion, since Baku and Ashgabat don't have to talk about large-scale cooperation, they can simply work on small projects in detail, since they can be very useful in bilateral relations format. That's exactly why presidents signed documents that concerned "long-term trade and economic cooperation; encouragement and mutual protection of investments; elimination of double taxation."
"Those documents will affect investments of Azerbaijan in Turkmenistan, activity of Azerbaijani side in Kazakhstan, in its western Caspian regions, and they may suggest that Baku has similar interests on the Turkmen coast. That's why those documents were needed, especially elimination of double taxation," Karavayev said, recalling that Azerbaijan couldn't sign similar agreement with Russia for about 15 years, before finally signing it in 2016. "It all means one thing - there's a mutual interest between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan," Karavayev stressed.
Doctor of political sciences, deputy director general of the Strategic Forecast Center, Igor Pankratenko, noted that the reason why Ilham Aliyev’s visit to Ashgabat drew so much attention of the international community is Turkmenistan's participation in the Azerbaijani-Turkish gas pipeline TANAP, and this topic wasn't discussed enough.
“At the same time, development of the Lapis Lazuli corridor - Afghanistan-Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Turkey - seems quite promising. China has already shown interest in it. As for another corridor - Turkmenistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Romania - it's difficult to say something definite yet. It doesn't even have a provisional name yet. Still, transport corridors are almost always extremely important, so we should just wait and see, refraining from hasty assessments," Igor Pankratenko believes.