Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Russian Transportation Network Ties Country Together Less Well than in Soviet Times, Shtepa Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – Moscow likes to talk about “the unity of the country,” but it ignores the reality that Russian regions are very poorly connected with each other … the inevitable result of the hyper-centralization of the state,” according to Vadim Shtepa, the editor of the Tallinn-based Region.Expert portal (

            It used to be a standing Soviet joke that if one wanted to go from one region to its neighbor, one had to fly via Moscow even if that was ten time zones away. But today, the situation has deteriorated sharply. Forty years ago, only 26 percent of passengers coming from a region had to pass through the capital to get to another region. Now, 74 percent do.

            In short, what had been a Soviet joke is now a Russian reality.

            This unfortunate trend is the result of the coming together of two others. On the one hand, in semi-capitalist Russia, all major firms are headquartered in the capital so as to be close to political decision makers and so those travelling from or to there find it easy to use this increasingly Moscow-centric system.

            And on the other, the Russian government has ended subsidies to regional airports and approximately a thousand of them have been closed, forcing people to go to regional centers and from them to Moscow rather than from localities in their own region to localities or centers in other regions. (On these developments, see

            This may serve the Kremlin’s interests by keeping the focus on the center, but “for the development of the country, intensive human communications among Russian regions is vitally necessary.” And that is something that the current situation is making ever more difficult.  In fact, “the hyper-centralized state is paradoxically working against its own unity.”

            Air travel is not the only kind of transportation which is Moscow-centric. So too are railroads and highways which “ini Russia have a clearly extremist centralist-radial character” not only in the country as a whole but inside each of its regions. That too limits cooperation and increases the distrust of regions to Moscow and of the periphery of regions to their own centers.

            Many in the regions would like to do something about this, but they lack the authority and funds to change things. Increasingly, the center lacks funds for this purpose as well and is using force as with BAM, even though history “has shown that force never leads to contemporary territorial development.”

            The prospects that this situation will change anytime soon are limited because transportation links are one of the clearest signs of the nature of the economic and political system. As long as it remains hyper-centralized, Russia will fall ever further behind on this measure as well.

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