“We recognise that Iran is the key to connecting with Central Asia,” said the sources while referring to a major meeting last month on a proposed Russia-Iran-India promoted North-South corridor that would originate from Bandar Abbas leading to Russia and other countries via the Caspian Sea.
India has “taken the lead” and is “pushing hard” to put the missing rail links in place so that a seamless route from Bandar Abbas port to Russia and Central Asia opens up by next year by when the customs union of Russia-Kazakhstan-Byelorussia would have expanded to include other Eurasian countries.
Besides the three original signatories, over 15 countries have joined the north-south project. In addition to putting in place missing railways links of about 200 km, all the sides will have to harmonise their customs procedures to make the endeavour workable. Currently Indian goods enter Russia through the Baltic ports of St. Petersburg and Kotka, the European port of Rotterdam and the Ukrainian ports of Illychevsk and Odessa.
Iran, said the sources, was also critical to stabilising Afghanistan as part of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) grouping after the NATO forces scale down their operations in 2014. Nearly all the countries surrounding Afghanistan are either members or observers to the SCO and they said, “we take it [the SCO] as an important platform to discuss the post-2014 situation in Afghanistan.”
In 1888, the Oriental Railway from Austria, across the Balkans via Belgrade, Sofia, to Constantinople, was opened. This linked with the railways of Austria-Hungary and other European countries and put the Ottoman capital in direct communication with Vienna, Paris, and Berlin. It was to be significant for later events.
The Sultan, Abdul Hamid II, on November 27, 1899, awarded Deutsche Bank, headed by Georg von Siemens, a concession for a railway from Konia to Baghdad and to the Persian Gulf. In 1888 and again in 1893, the Sultan had assured the Anatolian Railway Company that it should have priority in the construction of any railway to Baghdad. On the strength of that assurance, the Anatolian Company had conducted expensive surveys of the proposed line. As part of the railway concession, the shrewd negotiators of the Deutsche Bank, led by Karl Helfferich, negotiated subsurface mineral rights twenty kilometers to either side of the proposed Baghdad Railway line. Deutsche Bank and the German government backing them made certain that included the sole rights to any petroleum which might be found. The Germans had scored a strategic coup over the British, or so it seemed. Mesopotamian oil secured through completion of the Berlin-Baghdad Railway was to be Germany’s secure source to enter the emerging era of oil-driven transport.
A German-built rail link to Baghdad and on to the Persian Gulf, capable of carrying military troops and munitions, was a strategic threat to the British oil resources of Persia. Persian oil was the first crucial source of secure British petroleum for the Navy.
Turkey, backed and trained by Germany, had the potential, should it get the financial and military means, to launch a military attack on what had become vital British interests in Suez, the Persian route to India, the Dardanelles. By 1903 the German Reich was prepared to give the Sultan that means in the form of the Baghdad Railway and German investment in Ottoman Anatolia.
By 1913 that German engagement had taken on an added dimension with a German-Turkish Military Agreement under which German General Liman von Sanders, member of the German Supreme War Council, with personal approval of the Kaiser, was sent to Constantinople to reorganize the Turkish army on the lines of the legendary German General Staff. In a letter to Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg, dated April 26, 1913, Freiherr von Wangenheim, the German Ambassador to Constantinople declared, “The Power which controls the Army will always be the strongest one in Turkey. No Government hostile to Germany will be able to hold on to power if the Army is controlled by us…” .
As well in Serbia British military and intelligence networks were most active prior to outbreak of war. Major R.G.D. Laffan was in charge of a British military training mission in Serbia just before the war. Following the war, Laffan wrote of the British role in throwing a huge block on the route of the German-Baghdad project:
"If 'Berlin-Baghdad' were achieved, a huge block of territory producing every kind of economic wealth, and unassailable by sea-power would be united under German authority," warned R.G.D. Laffan. Laffan was at that time a senior British military adviser attached to the Serbian Army.
"Russia would be cut off by this barrier from her western friends, Great Britain and France," Laffan added. "German and Turkish armies would be within easy striking distance of our Egyptian interests, and from the Persian Gulf, our Indian Empire would be threatened. The port of Alexandretta and the control of the Dardanelles would soon give Germany enormous naval power in the Mediterranean."
Laffan suggested a British strategy to sabotage the Berlin-Baghdad link. "A glance at the map of the world will show how the chain of States stretched from Berlin to Baghdad. The German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Bulgaria, Turkey. One little strip of territory alone blocked the way and prevented the two ends of the chain from being linked together. That little strip was Serbia. Serbia stood small but defiant between Germany and the great ports of Constantinople and Salonika, holding the Gate of the East...Serbia was really the first line of defense of our eastern possessions. If she were crushed or enticed into the 'Berlin-Baghdad' system, then our vast but slightly defended empire would soon have felt the shock of Germany's eastward thrust."
British intelligence thus instigated the assasination Of Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Serbian Black Hand with the assistance of the Serbian Government in the hopes that it would incite Austria-Hungary to attack Serbia and break the rail link between Berlin and the Middle East.
"If 'Berlin-Baghdad' were achieved, a huge block of territory producing every kind of economic wealth, and unassailable by sea-power would be united under German authority," warned R.G.D. Laffan.
An India to Russia railway would do the same under SCO authority.