Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Kalmyk Port Makes Sense Only if Trans-Caucasus Canal Built and Russia Lacks Funds for That, Economist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 13 – Almost a year ago, Moscow appeared to approve the construction of a new Kalmyk port on the Caspian Sea; but since that time, the central government has thrown up one obstacle after another to the plan despite the fact that it is being financed privately and with assistance from Iran.

            Kalmyks are angry because they would be major beneficiaries, and backers of the effort say that neither of the other two Russian ports in the region – Astrakhan and Makhchkala – are able to handle container traffic and thus contribute to Russia’s development of the Caucasus as both a north-south and east-west hub (kavkaz-uzel.eu/articles/364751/ and casp-geo.ru/neposredstvennye-uchastniki-proekta-o-perspektivah-stroitelstva-porta-v-kalmykii/).

            Moscow officials currently object to the port because it is less than 300 kilometers from other ports and thus not an appropriate place to develop. But the real reason for the delay appears to lie elsewhere. The central government, economist Nikolay Kulbaka says is that “Russia doesn’t have the money for the canal,” and without the canal, a new book makes no sense.

            He concedes that Kalmykia would benefit from the port even if the canal isn’t built. It would give it “an exit to the sea.” But for Russia as a whole, “the profits from the construction of the port are ‘very doubtful,’” the Russian Academy of Economics and State Service scholar says. It will be something of only local interest.

            Obviously, Iran and China too would like to see the new port with its ability to handle container traffic, something the other Russian ports on the Caspian are not equipped to do in large amounts. But it makes far more sense, Kulbaka says, to modify them so that they can rather than to build an entirely new port.

            Instead of putting what money it has in such a port, the transportation specialist says, “it would be more correct for the government to finance the construction of a large number of good automobile roads as is being done elsewhere around the world … But unfortunately, this is not what interests our government.”

            Moscow’s preference for giant projects is why the ideasof a new Kalmyk port and of a trans-Caucasus canal have gone as far as they have, but increasingly, opposition to both are forming from a different direction. Russian ecology activists have pointed out that both will harm the environment.

            They likely wouldn’t have been able to kill these projects, but the lack of money may do the job.

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