Monday, August 21, 2023

Climate Change and Ukraine War May Combine to Lead to Revival of Siberian River Diversion Scheme, Some in Central Asia Believe

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Aug. 18 – Global warming which has left Central Asian countries without sufficient water and which, because of the melting of permafrost, now threatens northern Siberia with flooding may combine with Russia’s desire to end its international isolation because of the war in Ukraine may lead to revival of Siberian river diversion, some Central Asians believe.

            Since the early 1980s when there were many advocates of diverting water from Siberian rivers to Central Asia, Moscow has repeatedly rejected the scheme, most recently two years ago. But now the coming together of two factors means that there may be a new opening for the project.

            That Central Asians would like to see river diversion revived is no surprise: they are suffering from drought and serious water shortages for the economy and the population. But that Russians may be changing their position is perhaps unexpected, although perhaps it shouldn’t be (

            On the one hand, Russian experts and some Russian political figures recognize that with climate change, the permafrost layer in the north will melt and lead to massive flooding unless some way is found to redirect the water elsewhere. Sending some of it south via canals now seems a reasonable way out.

            And on the other, given Moscow’s diplomatic isolation even among former Soviet republics because of Putin’s expanded invasion of Ukraine, many in the Russian capital see promises to re-open the question of river diversion as a way to win support for Moscow from Central Asian elites.

            That doesn’t mean that the project is about to go forward. The costs, estimated at upwards from 60 billion US dollars, and the environmental consequences of river diversion make that unlikely. Moscow and the Central Asians don’t have the money, and many environmentalists say that any diversion would have negative consequences as well as positive ones.

            But the survey of Russian opinion by the QMonitor portal strongly suggests that this project which has been declared dead so many times before may again become a subject of serious discussion and that for the first time ever, the Russian side may have reasons to be for it almost as compelling as those motivating the Central Asians. 


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