Vladimir Yakunin, the head of the Russian Railways, proposed a super highway to connect London and New York City at the Russian Academy of Science. He also suggested a high-speed rail network to join Asia and Europe.
Yakunin is convinced the highway could “make Russia the new world centre for the creation and development of high-tech industries.” He said the “Western-style globalization” is no longer preferred and viewed “as a hindrance” on all parts of society.
“This is an inter-state, inter-civilization, project,” he announced. “It should be an alternative to the current (neo-liberal) model, which has caused a systemic crisis. The project should be turned into a world ‘future zone’, and it must be based on leading, not catching, technologies.”
He claimed the Trans-Eurasian belt Development (TEPR) “could become the GOELRO of the 21st century.” GOELRO (the State Commission for the Electrification of Russia) was the first plan for Soviet national economic recovery and development by Vladimir Lenin. Yakunin admitted the project will cost Russia trillions of dollars, but insists the risk is worth it since it will develop jobs and better connect isolated regions in Siberia to the rest of the country.
“Recently I returned from Khabarovsk, where I met with rectors of universities of the Far East – about 100 of them in total,” said Viktor Sadovnichy, the rector of Moscow State University. “The main problem that we discussed was isolation. Up to 30 per cent of talented young people graduating from schools leave these regions.”
Others do believe the project will benefit Siberia and residents in the east.
“It will solve many problems in the development of the vast region,” said Vladimir Fortov, the Head of the Russian Academy of Science. “It is connected with social programs, and new fields, new energy resources, and so on. The idea is that basing on the new technology of high-speed rail transport we can build a new railway near the Trans-Siberian Railway, with the opportunity to go to Chukotka and Bering Strait and then to the American continent.”
The question is whether the West cooperate with Yakunin. He is a controversial figure and one of Putin’s closest friends, and his proposal follows ambitious infrastructure efforts that seem to cement the desire of Putin’s administration to expand its influence, including nuclear power plant deals with Hungary, Egypt, and Jordan. The United States placed Yakunin under sanctions due to Russia’s aggression towards Ukraine. The sanctions froze all of his assets in America. It also stopped all American citizens and corporations from trading with Yakunin and his businesses. Yakunin is proud to be on the sanctions list.
“It was clearly stated that I was sanctioned not because of my wrongdoings but because of my connections with some persons on the top of Russian hierarchy,” he told The Moscow Times. “I consider the sanctions list to be a list of people who actually do something positive for our society and our country. It was not us who introduced this clash, but we were sanctioned and disgraced in the mass media.”