New transport corridors

01.18.2023

After the start of the Special Military Operation in Ukraine, the logistics market in Russia was subjected to a significant shake-up, as a result of which logisticians have to fight to create new routes, and the government has to create a special staff to revise the transport corridors. New schemes are unstable and require huge investments, but today Russia has no choice.

With the beginning of the Special Military Operation, China reduced its transit via Russia. According to Vedomosti, by September it had fallen by 35%, and in general for 2022, according to forecasts of Russian Railways, it will be halved. In private conversations, the Chinese refer this fact to the withdrawal of major sea carriers from Russian ports — Maersk, MSC, CMA CGM, Hapag-Lloyd, Yang Ming.

The sanctions hit the ports really hard: by August the turnover of containers in the Baltic region decreased by 39%, the loading of coal, fertilizers and timber decreased. As a result, the bulk of domestic cargo went to the Far East, Russia’s new sea gateway.

In the south, Turkey has become a new logistics hub — in June, «Russian» re-exports through it increased by 46%. The scheme is similar to the Chinese scheme: the Turks in their ports move imports into containers of small private lines and take them by sea to Novorossiysk. Domestic cargoes are delivered from Novorossiysk to Europe, Africa and the Middle East by FESCO and TransContainer. The latter transported 6,000 TEUs to Turkey from May to October, and about 4,000 back.

Meanwhile, China and Europe, in an attempt to develop an alternative to transportation through Russia, created the Trans-Caspian route involving 14 states, launched in 2017. Via this route the railway cars go from China to the Kazakhstani ports of Aktau and Kuryk, are loaded onto a ferry, and are carried by the Caspian Sea to the port of Baku. After that, they get off the railroad again and go to Europe, either through the Turkish station of Kars and the Bosporus Strait, or through the Georgian port of Poti and then by ferry to Odessa, Constanța, or Istanbul. The entire route takes 11 days, which reduced its attractiveness, but after the sanctions strike on the northern alternative, it became relevant. As a result, in the first half of the year the volume of container shipments on the Trans-Caspian increased by more than one and a half times, up to almost 14 thousand TEU, although it can not be compared with the Chinese transit through Russia (500 thousand TEU).

The new logistical reality in Northern Eurasia is an obvious fact, and the transport infrastructure is adapting to it. The main trend remains the flow of cargo from west to east. Trade with Iran over the past year has quadrupled, and since March 2022 the export of goods from Iran to Russia has increased by 70%. Not only icebreakers are built for the Northern Sea Route, but also salvage and rescue fleet, hydrographic fleet, the communication and navigation satellite infrastructure is in progress of reinforcement. Russian cargo airlines in search of ways to circumvent sanctions can replace restricted Boeings with narrow fuselage «old-timers» Tu-204/214. The Ministry of Industry and Trade is ready to allocate 15.4 billion RUB to restore their production, and the Rostec promises to produce up to 10 planes a year.

There is also progress with container transit from the People’s Republic of China through Russia. On October 24, the first train of the China-Europe Railway Express departed from Xiamen via Moscow. The Baltic ports are not forgotten either: several grain terminals are being built in the Leningrad region, and the port of Bronka is being used for the export of fertilizers and timber from Belarus.

Logistics has become a test of ingenuity for Russia.

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