Staunton, May 19 – Stalin began building an analogue to the Trans-Siberian railway across the northern wastes of the RSFSR using GULAG prisoners as laborers; but with his death, Moscow suspended the project because it no longer had the slave labor which had made the immensely costly project viable.
Now, Vladimir Putin has ordered construction be resumed, confident he can find investors whom his government has promised to keep hidden lest they fall under Western sanctions (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-05-05--stroitelstvo-zapoljarnogo-transsiba-vozobnovitsja-vo-vtorom-polugodii-2022-goda-59716 and ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-05-20--proekt-severnogo-shirotnogo-hoda-ne-ogranichitsja-zapadnoj-sibirju-59958).
The Kremlin has enormous expectations for this project which will last much of the rest of this decade if it begins soon. Russian leaders expect it to increase the region’s GDP by a quarter and dramatically expand the exploitation of natural resources by having a rail line available when the rivers freeze.
All this, analysts say, will contribute to the kind of import substitution Putin wants and that must be the centerpiece of Russian economic planning. But there are real questions as to whether Moscow will be able to complete the project without slave labor or Western or Chinese investments.
Stalin-era slave labor isn’t an immediate option, and Moscow may not be able to hide outsiders or even Russian firms prepared to invest from being sanctioned by the West. And there is another problem that even Stalin didn’t have: global warming is melting the permafrost across the region and making any construction project far more expensive than anyone had anticipated.
Indeed, it is entirely possible that climate change will stop this project in its tracks even before Putin has a chance to restart it.
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