Two of Russia’s Greatest Misfortunes – Roads and Fools – Once Again Come Together

Map of North Polar Region with Real or Hypothetical Rail Lines Across Eurasia, Bering Strait, North America

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, March 24, 2015)

Even though the Russian government currently repairs less than one percent of its horrific roads in many regions, Moscow has announced plans to build a superhighway and rail line extending across the Russian north to the Bering Straits and a tunnel to Alaska, a project in which enormous sums will be stolen and little else is likely to happen.

Vladimir Yakunin, the head of Russian Railways who attracted notice recently for his very public refusal to make a public declaration of his income, announced this week that the Kremlin has decided to develop what he called the Trans-Eurasian Belt that will link by road and rail European Russia to the Bering Straits.

He said that the project which because it will involve thousands of kilometers of road and rail over permafrost, bridges over major rivers and an enormous network of tunnels will cost “trillions and trillions” of US dollars and not be completed for several decades but that it was justified by “civilizational reasons” (siberiantimes.com/business/investment/news/n0160-plans-for-new-transport-route-unveiled-to-link-pacific-with-atlantic/).

This project, Yakunin said, is “an inter-state, inter-civilization project … an alterantive to the current neo-liberal model which has caused a systemic crisis. [It] should be turned into a world ‘future zone,’ and it must be based on leading technologies” not simply those intended to allow Russia to catch up.

The railway chief said this project “could become the GOELRO of the 21st century,” a reference to “the large-scale electrification of Russia proposed by Lenin and Stalin between 1920 and 1935.”

But Yakunin’s announcement immediately provoked dissent. Many questioned where the money could come from and even where it would go, likely into the pockets of Russian officials and their business partners; others pointed out that the route could not be profitable at any conceivable point; and still others that perhaps China would benefit but not Russia (russianrealty.ru/analytic/articles/rr/572759/). (forum-msk.org/material/news/10751356.html).

Some even suggested that Yakunin’s project was nothing more than the latest Soviet-style gigantist project that might have propaganda value but would do nothing else for the country and its people. But the most serious criticism took the form of complaints about what Moscow isn’t accomplishing on either every-day or other mega-projects.

One such report featured pictures of Russia’s anything but good roads, and another said that less than one percent of the roads in some regions were being repaired in any given year. Until that situation is corrected, writers asked, why should money flow into new projects that will never be finished or used? (sobkorr.ru/news/551011D3AD79E.html).

Another commentator pointed out that Moscow is finding it hard to come up with the money for a seven kilometer-long bridge to Crimea and said that was a symptom of a system that shouldn’t be proposing any more giant projects of the kind the Russian railways head and his Kremlin supporters have now come up with (forum-msk.org/material/news/10751356.html).

And he continued, “the Olympic M4 highway still hasn’t been finished; it simply ends 70 kilometers beyond Krasnodar … there are no roads [there] allowing the supplying of Crimea … From Moscow to Leningrad there isn’t a highway but a complete adventure. It is impossible to get around Moscow without hours-long delays.”

“This is a world power?” he asked plaintively.

But the most devastating comment about the absurdity of the latest link up of fools and roads in Russia came from another quarter: RBC released a new study about Skolkovo, the much-hyped Russian effort to create a Silicon Valley research center within Russia (daily.rbc.ru/special/business/23/03/2015/5509710a9a7947327e5f3a18).

Having asked “whatever became of Skolkovo?” the authors concluded that a great deal of money had been allocated but that a large part of that had disappeared without much to show for it – the typical outcome of such Russian super-projects that initially attract so much interest and even support but then gradually peter out, like Russian roads, into nothing.

Article also appeared at http://windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2015/03/two-of-russias-greatest-misfortunes.html