Kazakhstan’s Maritime Quest

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Kazakhstan’s Maritime Quest



  • Kazakhstan, a landlocked nation located in the Eurasian region, relies on neighbouring nations like Turkmenistan (gateway to Iran and Afghanistan), Russia (gateway to Europe) and Uzbekistan (gateway to Tajikistan and Turkey) as gateways for trade. 
  • Though land routes are considered to be economically effective for small cargo, the same is not true for heavy oversized cargo due to tonnage and bridge limits. 
  • Therefore, Northern Sea Route is being seen as a viable alternative by Kazakhstan, considering the limitations posed by the land routes.


Arctic Trade Route

  • Kazakhstan is exploring the Irtysh-Ob river system as an option to gain access to the world’s oceans through the Arctic.
  • Ob-Irtysh River, a transnational river connecting China, Kazakhstan and Russia to Sabetta Port in the Arctic region of Russia.
  • Irtysh is the largest tributary of the Ob River (2,640 Km long), which originates in the Chinese Altai Mountains and flows northwest towards eastern Kazakhstan.
  • Post the collapse of the Soviet Union, transportation of cargo through the river reduced. 
  • However, the potential to revive inland cargo transportation has found a new lease after Russia formulated its Arctic Policy in 2008



Russia – Kazakhstan

  • When it comes to the Arctic, Russia is the undisputed military and economic superpower. 
  • Therefore, Kazakhstan, which has a robust partnership with Russia particularly in the economic and security fields, is likely to benefit from engaging Russia in gaining access to the Arctic through Russia.
  • This could open up new economic opportunities for Astana.
  • The Ob-Irtysh river system penetrates deep into the heart of Eurasia thus offering Kazakhstan an opportunity for direct access to ocean trade lines. 
  • The river transits through Russia’s Sabetta Port which opens up to the Kara Sea and the Arctic Ocean, providing access to the European and East Asian market
  • The feasibility of the project from Russia to Kazakhstan was successfully tested in 2016 by transporting two large chemical reactors, each weighing more than 600 tons, from South Korea to Kazakhstan’s Pavlodar Port using the Northern Sea Route and the inland Ob-Irtysh river system 
  • Today, Sabetta Port, the largest port on the Northern Sea Route, has seen its cargo handling capacity grow more than five-fold.



China Factor:
  • China and Kazakhstan share a cordial relationship.
  • The two nations share two rivers Ili and Irtysh, both of which originate in China and then flow into Kazakhstan.
  • China also accounts for the highest water flowing from abroad into Kazakhstan. This is equal to 18 per cent of the Kazakhstan’s total water availability.
  • China also happens to be Kazakhstan’s second largest trading partner and a key pillar of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)



  • Kazakhstan is exploring alternative trade routes to enhance its economic potential. An Arctic route anchored in in-land waterways could open up Kazakhstan to the rest of the world.
  • The involvement of Russia and China in this alternative route, while crucial for its success, may come at a price.

Source: THE HINDU.