Staunton, August 12 – Even though Russia is in economic straits, some in Moscow are coming up with “futurist megaprojects,” the most expensive and ambitious of which appears to be a plan to link the Trans-Siberian railway, BAM, and the Northern Sea Route with a fleet of dirigibles to compensate for Russia’s lack of roads and railways.
But the cost of this venture, upwards of 200 billion US dollars, its political ambitions of getting the West to lift sanctions and Russians to bring capital back from abroad, and its unproven technology probably mean that this project will never achieve its goals and instead will become yet another way to send Russian tax money into the hands of those close to Putin.
According to Elizaveta Kuznetsova and Denis Skorobogatko of “Kommersant,” the Russian Security Council and Academician Aleksandr Nekipelov are behind this project which they call “a United Eurasia” and Deputy Prime Minsietr Arkady Dvorkovich is now working on the details (kommersant.ru/doc/3060944).
The project as currently understood would involve not only dirigibles but the construction of new high-speed rail lines north from the Trans-Siberian and BAM to Russia’s north coast over the next 20 years. China, the US and the EU would be invited to take part in exchange for the elimination of sanctions now. The Skolkovo Foundation is already behind it.
Each dirigible would cost on the order of 30 million US dollars, but would, the authors of the project say, be cost effective because it would take the place of five Mi-8 helicopters in the Far North. But despite the journalists’ requests, no one in the government would speak in anything but generalities about this plan.
One outside expert, Kirill Lyats of the Lokomoskay Company, says that dirigibles can be used to move heavy cargo when speed is not of the essence. But Vladimir Karnozov, an expert at the Aviation Explorer portal, says that no one has yet found a way to make such service profitable over time, despite many attempts.
That makes it likely that few in the government really expect this system to work as advertised but are confident that money allocated to it can become yet another slush fund for the Kremlin and its friends. At a time when Russians are suffering from cutbacks in basic services, this gigantist project is thus yet another case of the Kremlin’s thumbing of its nose at them.