ALMATY - Kazakhstan wants to handle greater volumes of cargo moving between Russia and Iran, a senior Kazakh official said on Monday, an increasingly important trade route as Russia's isolation over its invasion of Ukraine grows.
Iran, also targeted by Western sanctions over its nuclear programme, has become a key ally for Russia, providing it both with much-needed goods such as military drones, and with access to Gulf ports from which Russian goods can reach Asia.
Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, has distanced itself from Moscow politically, but Russia remains its biggest trading partner and Deputy Prime Minister Serik Zhumangarin said Astana was keen to boost its transit role in the so-called North-South corridor between Russia and Iran.
Such shipments can either travel via the Caspian Sea or move by railway to the east of it through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan, Zhumangarin said at a meeting with Russian officials which presidents Vladimir Putin and Kassym-Jomart Tokayev attended via video link.
"During the first nine months of this year, 80,000 tonnes of cargo have been shipped along this (eastern) route, which is an eightfold increase from last year, although the corridor's capacity allows of 6 million tonnes of shipments (annually)," Zhumangarin said.
Zhumangarin said reducing red tape and improving infrastructure could streamline cargo flows.
Tokayev met Putin in Moscow on Monday in his first foreign trip since he secured a second term in a snap election on Nov. 20.
Zhumangarin also said Kazakhstan was considering building a third railway crossing on its border with China. The move could be regarded as either positive or negative for Russia, depending on where the added volumes go.
The Central Asian nation is in talks with the European Union about boosting its transit capacity as part of a project to divert China-Europe cargo traffic from Russia to the Caspian and the Caucasus.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov and Mariya Gordeyeva; Editing by Jan Harvey)