Staunton, April 27 – Given the absence of roads and rail links, air routes are the major way that places in the Russian Far East are linked together; but the air network there has been collapsing since 1991, with only 82 of the 470 airports which existed at the end of Soviet times still open – with more than half substandard and in bad condition.
For the second time in five years, Moscow has announced a major plan to fix and expand this network, but many are skeptical that it will be any more successful than it was in 2013 when problems with planning and the supply of materials kept an earlier project from being fulfilled (rbc.ru/business/27/04/2018/5ae049689a79471da0a51a20?from=center_1).
In the earlier project, Moscow officials announced plans to spend 106 billion rubles (two billion US dollars) on improving airports in the Russian Far East, but in the event spend only a little more than half of that amount, with the remainder being drained off for other projects, probably a euphemism for corruption.
Because of that experience, neither airport owners nor airline operators are impressed with a new proposal to spend 100 billion rubles on the airports there, especially since the Russian finance ministry says that it hasn’t even seen the documents for such a project, let alone approved them.
The region has three major air hubs – in Khabarovsk, Kamchatka, and Vladivostok – that account for most of the passenger volume. Last year, 2.2 million of the region’s 8.5 million air passengers passed through Vladivostok alone. But most of the airports serve smaller settlements and still have unpaved runways.
Doing anything to improve their situation is extremely difficult because in many cases, the materials needed for construction can only be brought in by air, something both expensive and severely limited by the capacity of carriers in the region. What this likely means is that the latest proposal won’t go any further than the earlier one did.
And that in turn means something else: the residents of the Russian Far East will become even more cut off from Moscow than they were, a situation that is likely to prompt even more of them to depart from their homes and at least some to consider supporting regionalist or even independence movements in the future.