Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway officially launched
The Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway has been officially opened in Baku today.
Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Kazakh Prime Minister Bakytzhan Sagintayev, Georgian Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili, Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov and a number of other high-ranking officials attended the opening ceremony.
Political scientist Rovshan Ibragimov, speaking with a correspondent of Vestnik Kavkaza, recalled that the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars project was initially geopolitical, but over time it acquired an important geo-economic significance. "The geopolitical significance of the railroad going through Georgia to Turkey is the continuation of the policy of Azerbaijan's sanctions against Armenia in connection with the occupation of Azerbaijani territories. But while construction of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars was underway, several more large regional transport projects appeared, including the One Belt One Road Initiative and the International transport corridor North-South, along with which the West-South project can be realized - the BTK may become a part of each of these projects, combining Asia and Europe by the railroad for the first time," he explained.
Rovshan Ibrahimov pointed out that it should be noted that rail transportation is the most profitable for a number of categories of goods. "Due to this, the BTK has an opportunity to transport part of such goods. An important advantage of BTK is the station in Kars, which will allow to send freight and passenger trains without delay to Turkey, down to Europe via the underground tunnel under the Dardanelles to Bulgaria. Thus, we can consider BTK as an alternative land route between China and the EU, the trade turnover between which currently exceeds 500 billion euros per year. Transportation of even a small part of this turnover will allow to load the railway and recoup its construction costs," the expert stressed.
Baku-Tbilisi-Kars brings the transport infrastructure of the region to a new level. "BTK is necessary to intensify the trade turnover between the three regional states - Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey. Next year SOCAR will start selling petrochemical products through SOCAR Methanol, SOCAR Polymer and other plants for which Turkey is the main market. In addition, transportation from Kazakhstan along this railroad has already started. In general, the significance of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway will only increase over time," Rovshan Ibragimov expressed confidence.
According to the expert, if pragmatism prevails in Yerevan, Armenia will also be able to join to regional macroeconomic projects, but only after the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
An associate professor of the Faculty of International Relations of the TOBB University of Economics and Technology (Ankara), Togrul Ismail, in turn, expressed opinion that the countries not currently participating in the BTK will also be able to benefit from the project. "I am confident that not only Turkey, Azerbaijan and Georgia will benefit from the BTK, since both Russia and Central Asia will be able to use the road. Moreover, Armenia may get access to the BTK if it stops aggressive policy towards Azerbaijan and occupy its territory," he pointed out.
The commissioning of Baku-Tbilisi-Kars will intensify and deepen the trade and economic relations between the countries of the region and their neighbors. "It is important that the railway communication between the countries will become cheaper, which means that mobility of the population of the countries participating in the project will increase. Due to the use of high-speed trains, the BTK railway will allow an even greater flow of people from different countries to the region, therefore, our socio-cultural communication with each other, and with the whole world will strengthen. Reliable cargo transportation will bring economic stability, strengthen business and expand ties with Russia and Asia, which will entail increased mutual understanding and political stability," Togrul Ismail expects.
The head of the Institute of Management Strategy, Petre Mamradze,said that Georgia will benefit from the launch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars due to increasing revenues to the state budget from fees for the transit of goods across Georgian territory. "In addition, Georgia's regional role as an important transit country will increase, which will strengthen its political positions. When such a project exists, this indicates a positive level of the situation in the region, which can be only welcomed. For Georgia, this is an important positive example of the republic's participation in a major a macro-regional project, its cooperation with neighbors and the realization of its transit potential," he stressed.
"If we act in concert, significant investments will flow to the South Caucasus, because investors will see that it is profitable to invest in the region, that the business in the Caucasus is developing steadily," Mamradze concluded.
The BTK railway has been constructed on the basis a Georgian-Azerbaijani-Turkish intergovernmental agreement. The railway’s peak capacity will be 17 million tons of cargo per year. At an initial stage, this figure will be one million passengers and 6.5 million tons of cargo.