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Azerbaijan: Azerbaijan likely to join new transport corridor

June 2008.

Transport ministers of Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine Algirdas Butkevičius, Vladimir Sosnovsky, and Iosif Vinsky signed an agreement on improving the route of the train “Viking” on May 12. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus’ attending the signing ceremony proved unusualness of this agreement and its importance for the region countries.

The new route coincides with the ninth transport corridor determined by the International Union of Railways. 567km-long corridor lies along Klaipeda-Shaulyay-Vilnius-Minsk railway. Viking international train moving on this corridor has run between Klaipeda, Lithuania’s seaport on the coast of the Baltic Sea and Ilyiciovsk (Odessa) port of Ukraine on the coast of the Black Sea for five years. It was first launched on February 8, 2003. Transportation tariffs in the trains, which travel 1700km distance in 45-48 hours, is 30-50% cheaper than transportation by cars. That’s why goods turnover increased by 1.7 times and made up 40,600 containers. Viking – joint project of Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus is becoming an international project now. The main theme of Lithuania-Belarus-Ukraine negotiations was to ensure unhindered and quick transportation and extend the route to Scandinavia and Western Europe in the north and Caspian coasts of Azerbaijan in the south.

The agreement on increasing the cargo transported by Viking train was reached during the meeting of Ukraine-Lithuania intergovernmental commercial and economic commission late in 2007. The then Transport and Communications Minister of Ukraine Nikolay Rudkovsky said both countries would do their best to increase the load flow. Lithuania’s Economy Minister Vitas Navitskas said the sides would do their best for the route to cover TRACECA corridor.

If the project is implemented, it can be surely called north variant of TRACECA, which if often called heir of the historical Silk Road. East-West corridor shares half of the corridor. This route will extend the transcontinental transport opportunities between Europe and Asia, and will especially be natural extension of TRACECA route between the Black Sea and Baltic Sea. On the other hand, the part of this project in the north from the Black Sea is parallel to the route of Odessa-Brodi-Gdansk oil pipeline. Lithuania may be one of the first countries interested in the implementation of the project.

Viking project has actively been discussed during the visit of Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas to Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan in April, Turkey, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in May. Moreover, official Kyiv has appealed to Azerbaijani, Georgian, Turkmen, Uzbek, Turkish railway administrations to prolong route and noted its readiness for opening Ilyichevsk-Poti-Batumi ferry line. Turkey noted that it had already interested in the project. The route can transmit cargos via Scandinavia, Latvia and Estonia.

Viking has clear political side: the route can make Caucasus and Central Asian countries close to Europe and will function as window to the West and will be alternative to traditional gas and oil Russian route. Lithuanian Prime Minister has invited local entrepreneurs to the construction of gas terminal to be built in Klaipeda seaport.
The project is of great importance for Azerbaijan, because Viking project may cause exaggeration of country’s position as transit country and strategic importance. Transmission of cargos via TRACECA has been increased year by year, but it is not at high level. Works on Baku-Tbilisi-Akhalkalaki-Kars aim to lift Black Sea cork from TRACECA. Prolonging of Viking from Ilychevsk to Poti-Batumi line and joining it with Poti-Tbilisi-Baku railway gives chance to Azerbaijan and other Caucasus countries to transmit cargos to Western Europe, Scandinavian markets via Klaipeda. Lithuanian Prime Minister calls Azerbaijani state bodies and transport companies to cooperate with Lithuanian companies to benefit from advantages of Viking project.

Viking project threats transp

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