Russia rushes Iran with Resht-Astara railway line

16.04.24 23:45

Iran and Russia are on the verge of signing a new agreement on constructing the Resht-Astara railway to speed up the project's implementation.


Recall that on 17 May 2023, the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Russian Federation signed a $1.6 billion agreement on the construction of the Resht-Astara railway, which was to become a key for the transit of goods along the North-South International Transport Corridor. Almost a year has passed since then, but there has been no visible "progress" in the construction of this railway. Throughout 2023, construction work on the Resht-Astara section simply did not take place, even though nothing was in principle to prevent it.


In December 2023, the Iranian deputy minister of roads and urban development, Shahriyar Afandizadeh, announced that the construction of the railway between Resht and Astara in Gilan province would begin in early 2024. The Iranian side complains of a "lack of financial resources", although the same resources could easily be found to help the Republic of Armenia build a modern motorway from the Arax River northwards on its territory.


The slowing down of the construction of the Resht-Astara railway by the Iranian side has a purely political background. At the same time, the same Iran is lobbying in every possible way for the "South-North" route through the territory of the Republic of Armenia, although this section is supposed to be "purely automobile" and therefore much more expensive for transit. On the other hand, once the Resht-Astara railway is completed, Iran will not only have "northern access" to the railway and port infrastructure of the Russian Federation via the Azerbaijani railways, but also to the Black Sea via the Georgian railway and Georgian ports, and to Turkey via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars railway.


But Iran prefers to lose a clear economic advantage by maniacally trying to "push" the South-North transit through the territory of the Republic of Armenia. And this "manic" love of the Iranian authorities for Armenia seems to be beginning to irritate Russia. For Russia today, delaying the opening of the South-North transit corridor means losses of billions of dollars.


Armenia is now openly "crewing" Russia, its traditional ally. There is already talk of withdrawing Russian border guards and a Russian military base from the Republic of Armenia. For its security, Yerevan increasingly prefers to focus on Russia's geopolitical adversaries, the United States and France, which became particularly clear after Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in Brussels on April 5. However, Yerevan's apparent drift towards Washington on security issues does not seem to embarrass Tehran at all, despite all the propaganda about "hostility" towards the United States.


For Russia, in the long run, it is much more advantageous from a security point of view to have a reliable transit to the Indian Ocean through neutral and predictable Azerbaijan than through such an unreliable "ally" as Armenia. Moscow has decided to "drag" Tehran to speed up the construction of the Resht-Astara railway. And the Iranian side is forced, albeit reluctantly, to "speed up" in this direction, or at least to pretend that it is "speeding up.".


A meeting was recently held between the First Deputy General Director of Russian Railways, Sergei Pavlov, and the Iranian Ambassador to Russia, Kazem Jalali.


The importance of signing a contract on the Resht-Astara infrastructure project was raised during the talks. Much attention was also paid to the development of transport infrastructure within the framework of the North-South International Transport Corridor.


Sergei Pavlov noted a 400 per cent year-on-year increase in the volume of container freight traffic on the eastern side through the Sarakhs and Inchehborun points on the Iranian-Turkmen border in the first quarter of this year. As long as the Resht-Astara railway is not ready, Russia will be forced to increase transit through Iran via a longer route through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. With the opening of the Resht-Astara railway, the main Russian transit to the south will be through Azerbaijan.


It is difficult to say to what extent Russia will speed up the construction of the Resht-Astara railway by Iran. If Tehran had been willing, this railway would have been built long ago. So far, some people in Iran say that it is possible to build the Resht-Astara railway by the end of 2026, while others promise 2029 at the earliest.



Grigol Giorgadze

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