Turkmenistan is one of the most centrally controlled nations in the world, akin to North Korea. This nation, home of President Gurbanguly Berkhimudrov who recently declared that licorice root could cure COVID, has put forth a new plan to build a highway network connecting Turkey, beginning at the Caspian Sea coastline, by road to Afghanistan by both auto and railway networks.
The project to construct the new highway linking Turkmenistan with its neighbours is being prioritised by the country’s government. The new transport corridor will connect Turkmenistan with Afghanistan in one direction, and with Azerbaijan, Georgia and Turkey in the other.
The project involves the construction of both road as well as rail links. The route runs from Torgundi in Afghanistan, which lies close to the border with Turkmenistan. From the border, the route links Turkmenistan’s capital Ashgabat with the Caspian Sea port at Turkmenbashi. The sea crossing to Azerbaijan’s commercial centre and key port of Baku then will link by road to Georgia’s capital Tbilisi and finally to Turkey’s commercial centre, Istanbul. Many of the road links in Turkey forming part of the route have already been constructed.
Financing worth US$2.4 billion for the Ashgabat to Turkmenabat highway project was secured for the project previously. The 20-year loan was provided by the Central Bank of Turkmenistan. (source)
Whether or not this highway will actually be build is another issue. However, it illustrates a trend that is happening, and given the geopolitics of the area, may be funded or forced to continue by foreign powers, namely the US, Turkey, and Germany.
I have noted for a while now that the world is fighting, albeit ‘silently’, for control over Central Asia because it is tied to the future of trade as well as the viability of Russia as a world power. Russia may be large, but most of her power does not come from historical Russia west of the Urals. It rather comes from Siberia, and her vast resources to mine or extract and sell. Russia, as I have noted and many other people as well, does not really have an economy save for the production of cheap weapons for questionable leaders in poor nations and the extraction of raw materials. Mackinder wrote this as far back as 1900, saying that in addition to resources, controlling Central Asia places its controller- Russia -in the position of holding influence over the major economic and imperial movements between east and west that have historically defined global geopolitics.
Russia’s control on Central Asia is slipping, and has been since the days of the USSR. It was the region where the “Great Game” was largely played between the British and Russian Empires, and while it ‘tightened’ its control during the Soviet years, after the fall of the USSR it loosened and has continued to become weaker.
At the same time, Turkey, the US, Germany, and China have all stepped in to try to put their own influence in the region. The most successful has been with NATO, where economic railway and highway initiatives have began a serious process of connecting a highly-developed Turkey that continues to become more technologically advanced to the Far East, because that is where this is moving- a race to rebuild the Silk Road just like in the days of the Roman Empire, connecting as far away as Ireland and theoretically “Rome” (in the historical sense) to all parts of Asia including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, and New Delhi.
China and Russia are attempting a Chinese version of this called the “belt and road initiative”, but it has run into many setbacks. This is not to say that China is not pursuing it, but that right now, the question is who will be able to connect east to west fastest?
Russia is in an interesting position because she has technically connnected east to west by her railway lines. However, since the tracks used run on a different standard that those of the rest of the world, plus how may tracks and roads have significantly deteriorated (such as the saying in Russian “there are two problems in Russia: Fools and roads”). She is threatened by both NATO in the West and China in the East, for as much as she is an “ally” of China, China also is a direct threat to her Siberian holding, which like France’s African holdings that she controls through currency manipulation of the West and Central African Francs, if she loses Siberia, she loses control over her nation.
Meanwhile, Turkey is set on rebuilding the Ottoman Empire, and be it Erdogan still in power or another, the fact is that the Ottoman menace never died but is resurrecting. While she fights with NATO, Turkey is also a historical German and US ally, a major counterweight against the Russians, and given the support in building roads from Europe to Asia circumventing Russia, there is a very real, strong chance that Turkey could actually “beat” the Russians here.
Hence this is why the outcome of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict is so important. It’s more than just a squabble over territory. Rather, if one looks at the physical railroad- and by extension highway or future highway lines -there are several outcomes.
First, given the closeness between Azerbaijan and Turkey, and the fact that Azerbaijan has admitted she wants essentially to be absorbed by Turkey, the Azeri victory over Armenia creates a direct path from Turkey to the Oil Sands of Baku and the Caspian Sea, which is right across from Turkmenistan, and just so happens to be where this new railway and road lines are being planned will go to.
Second, what is happening is a continual “cutting out” of Armenia from economic life. Armenia is already isolated, considering that the current BTC (Baku-Tblisi-Ceyhan) railway line literally goes in about a 270 degree semicircle around Armenia. The victory over Armenia has officially cut off Armenia’s southern corridor by the Aras River, meaning that Armenia is now fully surrounded by Turkey and her Azeri ally. She is, for all purposes, a country in a country, with no way out to another land that is not Turkey. This is a typical strategy of ‘encirclement’, and given Turkey’s no-secret denial of the Armenian massacres and her hatred of Christianity and the Armenians, is bad news for the future, because it means that Turkey is likely looking to “finish the job” from last century.
Third, Turkey’s power as an economic machine due to these factors is going to rapidly increase because looking at a map, there are only two ways to the Far East From Europe- either go through Russia (not an option), or go through Turkey, and since NATO has chosen the latter, this is why Turkey is reviving. Her position is bolstering her return as a world power, and in a competition with Russia, the Nagorno-Karabakh “nail” is one more in the building of the railway to Asia.
The next decade is going to be a decade of escalation, and there are going to be many sub-trends within this. These developments in the small, isolated, and largely crumbling nation of Turkmenistan are not to be separated from what is going on in the rest of the world, for this is more than just a road, but about the construction of a revived Ottoman Empire, and is as relevant to the conflicts in the Middle East, with Russia, with China, and around the world more than ever before today.