Building the New Silk Road and New Eurasia: Part 3 – Pipelines, railways, and highways from Europe to China
December 10, 2015 –
yurasumy, PolitRussia –
Translated for Fort Russ by J. Arnoldski
“Moscow and Beijing are building a united Eurasia”
In the first two parts of this series, we talked about the sea – the warm sea which China is taking under its control and the cold sea which has long and firmly been in the hands of another enemy of the Anglo-Saxon world, Russia. But there is a third path connecting Eurasia. This is the land path. And given the fact that the US’ opportunities on land are very limited, it is the development of this pathway which is of a keen interest.
It is precisely an overland route for delivering goods, resources, and cargo which could guarantee a completely autonomous existence for the mega-continent Eurasia. It is difficult to build an internal freight artery, but it is precisely the presence of such which would make the building of the Berlin-Moscow-Beijing geopolitical axis sustainable and independent of the whims of the sole hegemon descending from Olympus.
First and foremost, overland routes at this stage ensure the smooth flow of resources from producer countries to consumer countries. Basically, these are the paths leading from the countries of the former USSR to Europe and China. This is, so to say, the groundwork. But saying that the overland “Silk Road” will be fully operational will only be possible when a considerable flow of “finished products” will go between Europe and China and the logistics of distribution will be worked out.
It is obvious that land arteries will never fully replace sea routes….But it is precisely this land part of the “Silk Road” which will be assigned the very important task of stitching the mega-continent into a united economic whole.
All land transportation arteries are divided into three types: pipeline, rail, and road. In the future, each of them is intended to contribute to building a common economic space from Lisbon to Shanghai.
Pipelines, like thread, sew together regions and countries and contribute to their rapid integration. Therefore it is precisely this type of transport which primarily depends on political decisions.
Pipeline transport has its specifics. It is cheap but highly specialized. Huge volumes of cargo can be cheaply moved along them. But only in one way. It binds countries together very tightly, but it has a big drawback – it is very expensive, and it is simply impossible to take and redirect the flow to another location.
Consequently, this type of transport is very vulnerable and often entails blackmail and showdowns.
Problems with Europe began for the USA back in the time of the USSR, when the decision was taken to “allow” Soviet gas and oil to enter the market of the Western part of the continent. Even back then the question arose: what could Europe and the USSR do in the future without the “care” of the overseas “Big Brother.”
The “Druzhba” and “Urengoy-Pomary-Uzhgorod” oil and gas pipelines were the first bridges that allowed the possibility of a single economic space to be discussed in the future.
After the collapse of the USSR, these relations were strengthened. On can, of course, talk about the dependence of Russia on exporting raw materials, but it is equally correct to speak about the dependence of Europe and China on the import of raw materials from Russia. These are mutual ties and no efforts by the US have been able, so far, to destroy them.
In recent years, a series of similar projects that have either been completed or are under construction have been witnessed.
To the West
The Nord Stream – Initially, this was a project for supplying gas to Germany. Now, the construction of a second stage is being prepared. In view of the depletion of gas fields in the Netherlands in Great Britain and the near exhaustion of such in Norway in Northern Europe, it is most likely that a gas hub will be created which will include several branches off of the gas line from Russia.
The Ukraine-Belarus Gas Transport System: This is the heritage from Soviet times. It is unlikely that these projects will be developed. The congestion of gas pipelines running in this direction and long-term instability in Ukraine are the main problems.
The South Stream / Blue Stream / Turkish Stream: This is the southern alternative to the Ukraine-GTS. The US is doing everything so that none one of these projects will be launched. If they succeed, then the economic connections between Southern Europe and Russia will be weakened, and this gives Washington a chance…
To the East
Central Asia – China: Thread by thread this pipeline has been gathering all of the available gas resources of Central Asia. Now the fourth branch is being built.
Strength of Siberia: These are two projects combined into one which will deliver gas from Eastern Siberia and the Far East to China.
The East-West oil pipeline: This carries oil from fields in Kazakhstan to China.
The Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean and Western Siberia-Pacific Ocean pipelines: These supply oil to China and further on to the Asia-pacific region with oil from fields in Russian Siberia and Far Eastern fields.
As we see, the threads of pipelines in the last decade are connecting together new economic ties in the main parts of Eurasia. Russia, in this, is the main link in the chain.
Pipelines partially replace maritime transport and give countries a stable supply regardless of the foreign policy situation.
If we add to this heap of all pumping gas pipelines, then the sum of flows is commensurate with the flow of goods along the southern “Silk Road.” Today, an amount to the order of 200 million tons goes to China and up to 300-350 million tons go to Europe. About half of all these flows have emerged only in the last 15-20 years. And this is already a quarter of the cargo-traffic at the Suez canal, not to mention that not all these projects are completed.
Nevertheless, as a result of its narrow specialization, pipeline transport cannot fulfill very many “bridging” functions between countries.
The railway appeared as a product of industrialization when the world’s cargo traffic multiplied every decade. Already by the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century railways became the world’s main means of transport.
Transferring goods from one port to another by sea can be cheap. But the vast amount of goods have their final consumers far away from major trading ports. They are often spaced hundreds or even thousands of kilometers apart. This is especially true for such a vast continent as Eurasia. Bringing a container by sea through the Suez canal to Europe is cheaper than by train from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
It’s obvious that it is pointless to attempt to build overland logistics so that goods are transported the cheapest way from port “A” to port “B.” But this is not even what is required. It’s obvious that carrying goods by sea from Moscow to Tashkent is pointless. But it is also pointless to ship them from Liaoyang in China to Moscow if a high-speed railway is laid between the two. This would be cheaper and much faster. Moreover, this transport “interchange” would enhance the development of the regions rather than a mere narrow strip of land by a port, and this is especially important for China and no less true for Russia.
Moreover, passengers could be transported along this route at speeds of up to 200km/h and loads at up to 120 km/h.
It is this logic that is reflected in the project for designing a high-speed railway which would connect Beijing and Moscow. Along the way, it would tie together many industrialized centers, new territories, and would contribute to a sharp growth in the economies of the crossed regions.
The project of a Eurasian high-speed transport corridor from Moscow to Beijing was submitted to Russian Railways in September 2014 at the forum in Sochi. A single transport corridor should pass through the territory of three states: Russia, Kazakhstan, and China. Its length would be 7.8 thousand kilometers and travel time would be 38 hours. More than 2 thousand kilometers of the railway would stretch across Russian territory and it would connect the center of the country, the Volga region, the Ural economic region, and the largest cities of Russia: Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Perm, Ufa, and Chelyabinsk.
Then, 1.7 thousand kilometers of the highway would pass through the territory of Kazakhstan with a stop in the capital Astana and then lead to the border town of Dostyk with China. The third leg of the journey includes 3.9 thousand kilometers and runs from the western part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China to its northern part via Urumqi and Beijing.
Such a project would become the skeleton to which a mass of other, smaller economic projects would be attached just as what happened in the case of the Trans-Siberian Railway and Baikal-Amur mainline in their time.
Naturally, this idea is good when connected with logistics centers which would redistribute loads and allocate them to the surrounding areas. But this can’t be done without vehicles…
The decision to construct a transcontinental highway was made long ago. Back in 2007, a memorandum on cooperation was signed between the Russian Federation and Kazakhstan. The aim of the project is the construction of a motorway with a length of up to 8,500 kilometers from St. Petersburg to Western China through Kazakhstan, where it would connect with a network of Chinese roads.
The route through Russia and Kazakhstan includes St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Orenburg, Aktobe, Kyzylorda, Shymkent, Almaty, and Khorgos.
Already in the near future Chinese and Kazakh sections of the roads will be finished and the Russian part will be finished in 2020 (this is included in the framework for holding the World Cup in 2018). A well developed network of automobile roads will dramatically expand opportunities and a transcontinental high-speed railway will increase its profitability.
There are many projects for land transport routes in Eurasia. Some have already been realized, some are at the stage of construction, and some are now only being planned. But the trend is clear. In the end, all of this will turn Kazakhstan into a kind of transport hub of the continent and Eurasia into a united mainland. This is a daunting goal, but it is fully manageable and has already been successfully decided upon.