Monday, March 28, 2022

Moscow Planning a Railroad into Tyva to Prevent Its Secession, Aksyonov Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Mar. 20 – Moscow is planning to build the first-ever railroad into the Republic of Tyva nominally to take advantage of that region’s coal reserves and boost employment and incomes there and prevent that Turkic republic from falling victim to the siren song of pan-Turkism, Sergey Aksyonov says.

            But in fact, as the Svobodnaya pressa commentator’s analysis suggests but that he does not say, it appears that economic and even foreign political considerations are subordinate to Vladimir Putin’s desire to do away with non-Russian republics by combining them with neighboring and predominantly ethnic Russian regions.

             If the 400 km-railway into Tyva is in fact ever built, it will link Tyva with Krasnoyarsk Kray, the contiguous and most likely predominantly ethnic Russian region with which Moscow may combine Tyva with in the next round of amalgamation, now widely anticipated after the 2024 presidential vote (

            A major reason that the Kremlin fears Tyva may be won over by Ankara’s Pan-Turkic messaging is that unlike most of the other nine Turkic republics within the current borders of the Russian Federation, it is relatively small, extremely poor, and borders on foreign states, all of which could make its exit easier.

            It is clear that the Russian government thinks that if it builds this railroad, it will boost incomes and employment in Tyva and thus keep it loyal to Moscow. But there are at least three reasons why that calculus is likely mistaken, Aksyonov says on the basis of conversations with experAnd tts on the region.

            First, the rail line is unlikely to be profitable and therefore is unlikely to be completed. Coal prices are likely to decline, and the large number of tunnels and bridges that would be needed to link Tyva to Krasnoyarsk mean that the project would almost certainly prove not only more difficult but more expensive than currently planned.

            Second, the only way around this price constraint, experts say, is to extend the line into Mongolia and ultimately China. But if Moscow does that, it will make it easier not harder for Tyva to exit out from under Russian control. Indeed, such an arrangement might mean that China, not Turkey, would become the dominant player in Tyva.

            And the Tyvans don’t want to give up their current economy which is based on pastoralism. When ethnic Russians fled in the early 1990s, their positions remained unfilled because Tyvans did not want to work in industry. If the rail line were built and industry restored, Russians would have to be brought in.

            And that process could easily trigger a revival of the ethnic conflicts between the two nations that marked the first years of post-Soviet life. Were that to happen, Turkey and possibly China would find it even easier to fish in these troubled waters. As a result, the line is unlikely to be built; but if it is, it will be used to link Tyva to Krasnoyarsk rather than to modernity. 

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