High-level officials from thirty-four countries conferred on September 8 and 9 in Baku on the plan to create a Transport Corridor Europe-Caucasus-Central Asia (TRACECA)–a network of rail, highway, ferry and pipeline links. Initiated by the European Union, TRACECA enjoys strong support from the newly independent countries of the former USSR. Yesterday, all participants in the Baku conference, with the exception of Russia and Iran, signed a multilateral agreement to proceed with development of the transport corridor. The agreement is historic, in that it envisages linking the former Soviet republics directly with the West–replacing Soviet-era transit routes which had linked the republics with Russia proper while isolating them from the West.
The document’s sixteen clauses set the general terms of customs tariffs, taxation, road and cargo safety, supporting services, environmental protection, insurance, legal safeguards and several other issues. Four supplementary technical agreements concern automobile and railway transport, shipping and customs, respectively. The signatory countries further agreed to create an intergovernmental commission to oversee implementation of the project, with an executive secretariat headquartered in Baku.
Russia sent a low-level representative to the conference in the person of a deputy minister of transport. The delegate, Yevgeny Kazantsev, raised certain procedural objections to the plan but also unveiled substantive reasons why Moscow opposes it. He contended that transit from Central Asia and the Caucasus to Europe via Russia is more cost-effective and more reliable. He also lobbied for transit of Caspian oil to international markets via Russia. However, analyses undertaken by the Western and the newly independent countries demonstrate the opposite of those theses. (International agencies, Eastern Economist Daily, September 9)
RUSSIAN BORDER GUARDS, EVICTED FROM POTI, YIELD GEORGIA’S SEABOARD.