by Mister Unknown

Recently Saakashvili made a rather  comical statement  on  Ukrainian TV , which reinforced my perception of him as someone “with a tendency for miscalculation”, to put it euphemistically.

“Our plans now include the New Silk Road. Now logistics take 30 days if transported via Russia, but it will take up to nine days via Illichivsk [port]. Everything is available there. And large flows need to be attracted. And it’s possible to attract. A flow will go if a highway heading for Reni, i.e. the European Union, is built. Then a large bridge across the Dniester Firth needs to be built for no one could cut Bessarabia away. We’re already working on this…”

A few “little” problems with Saakashvili’s statement:

1.  Existing  rail routes – starting in Chongqing, running through Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, & arriving in Duisburg, takes 14-16 days, NOT 30 days (see schedule below from a  Chinese company  that actually operates on this route).

http://en.msshipping.cn/upfiles/2015-06/201506190141005000.jpg

Even an extended route – the China-Europe Block Train,  spanning from Eastern China to Spain  would take only 21 days.

https://img.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/files/2014/11/trainRoutePROJ-2300.jpg

2. How did Saakashvili dream up “9 days” via Illichivsk? Who knows… but, here is the reality: if Chinese companies were looking for the shortest, fastest way to transport goods to the EU, making a stop in Illichivsk makes no business sense in most circumstances. If the goods were destined for Northern Europe (e.g. Germany, Scandinavia, France, etc.), a far more direct route would be through Russia (and the Baltic states if needed). In that case Ukraine would be an unnecessary southern diversion. If the destination was Southern EU states (Romania, Italy, Spain, etc.), direct maritime routes, offloading in  Constanta (Romania)Piraeus (Greece) , or  Genova (Italy)  would have similar (or slightly shorter) shipping times relative to  Illichivsk , but have the added advantage of being inside EU territory, thus foregoing the need for one additional customs inspection. In fact, I’d imagine that’s one of the reasons that COSCO – a Chinese state-owned shipping company – is  pursuing a stake  in Piraeus.

3. If China wants a purely non-maritime trade route with the EU, 3 basic options exist:
– Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus
– Pakistan, Iran, Turkey
– Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran, Turkey

In all cases, Ukraine would be an unnecessary transit point that adds no business value, especially since Belarus is already positioning itself as China’s optimal Silk Road transit partner, through a joint venture to build an  industrial park  to streamline logistics.

The only scenario in which Ukraine could potentially add some value as a transit country for Chinese goods to the EU is if Ukraine joined either the Eurasian Union or the European Union, which would at least ease customs & entry processes, but neither is politically realistic at this point.

If Saakashvili ACTUALLY thinks diverting the Silk Road away from Russia to Ukraine is a possibility – as his statement suggests – then he is in for some disappointment when reality kicks in.

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