Russia and Iran ink deal for rail link as part of intercontinental trade route

Rasht-Astara railway will form part of International North-South Transport Corridor; leaders Putin and Raisi declare it will diversify global traffic, improve Moscow-Tehran ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the ceremony of signing an agreement on the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi via videoconference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 17, 2023. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in the ceremony of signing an agreement on the construction of the Rasht-Astara railway with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi via videoconference at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, May 17, 2023. (Mikhail Klimentyev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Russian and Iran signed an agreement Wednesday to finance and build a railway line that will form part of a developing international cargo route they hope can become a major player in global shipping.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Iranian counterpart, Ebrahim Raisi, participated via video link in the signing ceremony for the Rasht-Astara railway, inked by Iranian Roads and Urban Development Minister Mehrdad Bazrpash and Russia’s Transport Minister Vitaly Savelyev.

The 162-kilometer (100-mile) route will run along the Caspian Sea coast and through Azerbaijan. It will be a key part of the International North-South Transport Corridor, a 7,200-kilometer (4,473-mile) combined road, rail and sea route aimed at moving goods from Russia via Central Asia to India, slashing shipping costs and times.

“The unique North-South transport artery, of which the Rasht-Astara railway will become a part, will help to significantly diversify global traffic flows,” Putin said, according to a Reuters report.

“Without a doubt, this agreement is an important and strategic step in the direction of cooperation between Tehran and Moscow,” Raisi said.

Russia has in the past touted the trade route as being a rival to the Suez Canal, an artificial waterway connecting the Mediterranean and Red seas that cuts thousands of kilometers from the sailing route between Europe and Asia that would otherwise go around the African continent.

Under the terms of the agreement, Russian will spend 1.6 billion euros on the construction of the railway, whose completion is planned within 48 months, the Trend outlet reported, citing the Iranian Ministry of Roads and Urban Development. Iran’s side of the project will cost about 4.6 billion euros and it is looking for foreign investors to help cover the expense.

The ministry said there will nine stations on the line.

Russia, Iran, and India initially signed on the North-South route in the early 2000s and since then a number of other countries have ratified the project including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Russia, Tajikistan, Türkiye, and Ukraine.

Russia and its close ally Iran have upped their cooperation as they both struggle under economic sanctions from Western countries.

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