In a bid to evade Western sanctions on its exports, Russia has joined forces with Iran by constructing a new, $20billion waterway-railway route from Russia-occupied territories in Ukraine to the southernmost ports in the Islamic Republic.

United, perhaps, by their increasingly closer military ties and the fact that they have been both made pariah in international trade by Western sanctions, the two countries are now working towards expanding their trade ties with Asia.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that Russia and Iran are expanding canals on navigable rivers and building railroads to support growing international trade between them.

“The new transcontinental route would start at the Sea of Azov, including the major Ukrainian port of Mariupol, which Russia occupied after it invaded Ukraine earlier this year,” the Bloomberg report said

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According to vessel tracking data compiled by the news agency, dozens of ships, both Russian and Iranian, are already traveling up and down the route, which is much shorter than the route entirely by sea from the Russian ports on the Baltic Sea via the Mediterranean and through the Suez Canal.

“This is about establishing sanctions–proof supply chains all the way through,” Maria Shagina, an expert on sanctions and Russian foreign policy at London–based International Institute for Strategic Studies, told Bloomberg.

Iran and Russia have strengthened their ties in recent years, by signing a 20-year strategic agreement earlier this year. Apart from trade ties, the two countries have boosted military ties, including regular weapons deliveries by Tehran to Moscow, the transfer of Russian weapons to Iran, and a growing agenda of deepened security cooperation.

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There were also reports last month that Russia and Iran had signed an agreement that would allow the former to produce Iranian-designed drones, which will be used on the battlefield in Ukraine. The agency accused hundreds of Iranian-made suicide and combat drones against Ukrainian military and civilian infrastructure in recent months.

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