Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Putin’s Kerch Bridge Project Preventing Much Needed Repairs of Other Russian Bridges

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 30 – Vladimir Putin’s plan to build a bridge across the Kerch straits to Russian-occupied Crimea, a project few expect will be completed on time or under budget, most say involves enormous corruption, and some say will prove technically impossible, is sucking up so much money that there is now none left to repair aging and decaying bridges elsewhere.

            And that given the drumbeat of reports about bridges collapsing has the effect of bringing the Kremlin’s war in Ukraine home to Russians in a way that few other things, other than combat losses, do, Moscow’s spending on a problematic bridge and not spending on much-needed ones elsewhere is thus becoming a political problem.

            In a commentary on Moscow’s Versiya portal, Nikolay Zlobin says that “the grandiose nature” of the Kerch bridge does nothing to distract attention from the fact that the situation with regard to bridges in Russia is anything but unproblematic (versia.ru/stroitelstvo-mostov-prevratilos-v-kormushku).

            Ten percent of the country’s 42,000 car bridges, he points out, are made of wood and desperately need to be replaced to carry the increasingly heavy loads that trucks now are placing on them, and many of its 30,500 railway bridges are in poor shape as well, with both kinds routinely collapsing or requiring repairs.

            And while some of the gigantist bridge projects Moscow has come up with, including in Sochi and in Vladivostok, have in fact been built, albeit in every case way over budget and well past deadline, there are some high-profile ones that have fallen flat, the most recent and prominent being the bridge between Russia and China.

            In 2005, Zlobin says, the two countries agreed to build a bridge between them to carry Russian coal to Chinese plants.  The Chinese got to work and have completed their half of the structure – but the Russians have not even begun and so this has become a kind of Russian-Chinese version of the notorious “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.

            According to experts, Russian officials prefer to launch high-profile major projects because they involve vast sums of money, some of which the officials and their partners in the business community can then steal, although it is often difficult if not impossible to bring those responsible to justice.

            Meanwhile, many of Russia’s other bridges are falling down.  Last week, a bridge collapsed over the Menkule River in Sakha. Officials blamed the truck driver involved for failing to obey a sign saying that the bridge was not save for any vehicle over 15 tons, even though in this case as in many others truckers have no choice but to use the bridges that exist.

            A month earlier in the same republic another bridge collapsed for the same reason, and “if the officials responsible don’t change their approach to bridge building, more bridge collapses will occur,” according to Vasily Mazur, a transportation company official in Sakha says.  He adds that he has been trying to get official to focus on bridges for two decades.

            Now he has appealed directly to Putin to address the problem. (See versia.ru/uzhasnyj-razval-mostostroeniya-kak-zakonomernost-vrednogo-upravleniya-i-nekompetentnosti.)  Many will dismiss this as a local and non-political complaint. But it is not only political but involves foreign as well as domestic policy given the impact of the Kerch project on Russia’s bridges.

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