Staunton, May 27 – Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has ordered the closure of services at 44 airports in the Russian North, further reducing the number of airports in Russia and effectively cutting off many parts of the north more dramatically than one might assume because there are no roads or railways connecting these places with the rest of the country.
According to his order (publication.pravo.gov.ru/Document/View/0001202105260007), all services at 19 airports in Arkhangelsk Oblast, 17 in the Nenets Autonomous District, five in Krasnoyarsk Kray, and one each in the Komi Republic, Irkutsk Oblast, Sakha and Komsomolsk-na-Amure will no longer be serviced.
According to officials in the region, this action was taken without warning and means some cities will no longer have regular air service, limiting health care, pressuring more people there to leave, and undermining shore support for the Northern Sea Route (znak.com/2021-05-27/mishustin_podpisal_rasporyazhenie_o_zakrytii_44_aerodromov_dlya_obsluzhivaniya_samoletov_v_rf).
Since 1991, Moscow has been reducing the number of operational airports. At the end of Soviet times, it had 1450 of them. Now after this action, it has only 184 for the country as a whole, less than half as many as Papua New Guinea and less than two percent of the more than 13,500 airports in the US (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/06/putins-renaming-airports-attracts.html).
The situation in the North and Far East with respect to airports has deteriorated especially sharply. In 1991, there were 470 operational airports across that enormous and largely roadless part of the Russian Federation. Now there are only 38 left out of the 470 airports which existed in the north and east thirty years ago (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2013/06/window-on-eurasia-russia-needs-domestic.html).
Russian officials note that the runways will survive, something that in principle will allow for emergency flights in and out. But without permanent staffing, it is likely that many of them will not be maintained at all – and consequently, using them will be dangerous or even impossible.
What makes this little-ballyhooed announcement so remarkable is that it calls into question Vladimir Putin’s bold talk about developing the Russian North and making Russia an Arctic power. With transportation access to this area now significantly reduced, the chances of achieving his goals are cut as well.