EU Energy Security and Kazakhstan’s Position on the Middle Corridor

Before the 24th of February 2022, freight through the New Eurasian Land Bridge (NELB) or so-called ‘Northern Corridor’ —with Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine as its most critical components— showed great promise. However, the war in Ukraine and the related Western sanctions against Russia and Belarus have created significant shifts in global geo-economics and supply chains. This has heavily affected various sectors such as global energy markets, transportation, and logistics, alongside infrastructural connectivity initiatives.

These new security challenges have forced the European Union (EU) to explore alternative, reliable trade routes to avoid the Russian territory, resulting in an increased attention on the Caucasus and Central Asia. These regions immediately located below Russia could offer a multitude of actors, especially China, access to Europe without having to rely exclusively on Russia and its territory. In particular, the Trans-Caspian International Transport Route (TITR), known as the ‘Middle Corridor’, has gained growing momentum. Compared to other transit routes the Middle Corridor is not subject to any international limitations and sanctions and offers safe access to European and other nearby countries. Russian Railways, which had played a major part in China-Europe cargo transportation, have fallen under American and European sanctions since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, while international shippers are uncertain about the current viability of that route. As a result, the Middle Corridor has seen a boom in freight and transportation of energy in the past months. In the context of this new global geopolitical reality, Kazakhstan is rapidly developing itself as a strong transportation and logistics hub in Central Asia linking China and Europe. The Kazakh authorities, as well as the European Union and the United Arabs Emirates (UAE), planned to invest heavily in upgrading the local infrastructure, from the railway system to the Caspian ports. Ambitions are high, as are the stakes and uncertainties about the realisation of such an alternative and reliable transport route connecting the Eurasian continent.

Author: Luca Urciuolo, EIAS Junior Researcher

Photo Credits: Flickr