Wednesday, August 17, 2022

Russians Looking to the Distant Past to Figure Out How to Deal with Volga Delta Problems

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 22 – People have been using the Volga and the Caspian Sea to which it is connected for more than a millennium, but for much of that period they have had difficulties because the river’s delta is subdivided into many parts, many of which fill up with silt and become impassable for all but the smallest boats.

            Now that Vladimir Putin has made the development of north-south trade between Russia and the states of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean littorals a central part of his agenda, concerns about the Volga delta and how to improve navigability are increasing, especially since Moscow has already had to move the main base of the Caspian Flotilla because of problems.

            Various ideas have been floated including the building of a new canal system to bypass most of the delta, but they are so expensive and would in any case take so long to implement that Russians are casting about for other possibilities. The most interesting of these efforts involves looking back to what traders and travelers did centuries ago.

            Two specialists on hydrology at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Petr Bukharitsin and Sergey Kotenkov have just published a survey of navigation problems and responses between the ninth and nineteenth centuries in the current issue of Gidrometeorologiya i ekologiya. A full text of the article is available at

            In a comment on their work, Vlad Kondratyev, an analyst who specializes on the North Caucasus, says that what Bukharitsin and Kotenkov have offered is of far more than historical interest. Instead, it is an example of how an openness to examining the distant past may help solve current problems (

            Whether any of the ideas the two hydrologists offer on the basis of their survey of the anything but recent past will be adopted very much remains to be seen, but that they are offering such ideas highlights the very real difficulties Moscow faces and its apparent faith that it will be able to find answers in its own history rather than from more recent international scholarship.

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