Staunton, March 7 – For the fifth time in 15 years, Moscow has postponed construction the Polar Trans-Sib railroad, a 600 km line linking the Northern Urals and Eastern Siberia that, by tying together existing tracks, will allow for the movement of people and goods across an enormous territory larger than Sweden, Norway and the Benelux countries put together.
Vladimir Putin had regularly included this line in his programs to develop the Russian North both economically and in terms of security. Railroads are key because the region this line would go through has one of the lowest densities of highways anywhere in the world and thus railways are central.
But budgetary concerns appear to have shot it down for the time being, even though there is widespread conviction that it would boost the economies of the North and help support Russian efforts to service and control the Northern Sea Route (ritmeurasia.org/news--2021-03-07--severnyj-shirotnyj-hod-vostrebovan-no-vnov-sooruzhenie-otkladyvaetsja-53585).
A glance at the map, which shows no railroads and few highways in the region, shows why there is so much support for doing something that now Moscow has again put on hold. Stalin wanted to build it near the end of his life using GULAG slave labor. But 16 days after his death, the USSR Council of Ministers announced the postponement of the plan.
The last 70 years have only increased the importance of such a project in both an economic and geopolitical sense. But there are fears that the Polar Trans-Sib will once again be shelved and possibly for a long time, raising new questions about Russia’s ability to manage the Northern Sea Route and project power into the Arctic in the future.