Transport Near and Far

It takes over 10 hours in a passenger jet to cross Russia's airspace from west to east. The famous Rossiya train takes about 6 days to travel the length of the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Moscow to Vladivostok. Moving people and freight has always been one of the biggest challenges and top priorities for the Russian government. Ukraine and especially Kazakhstan are also very large countries with many transportation needs. Long distances put the former Soviet Union (FSU) at a competitive disadvantage worldwide, relative to small, compact regions near seacoasts (e.g., Southeast Asia, where goods go from coastal factories directly to ports). Within the FSU, the most advantaged nations in regard to transport are the Baltic states, with their easy access to the Baltic Sea; the least advantaged are the landlocked Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Russia has some geographic advantages, as well as disadvantages. Its exclave of Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea is a convenient coastal locale, with a deep seaport that never freezes, a mild climate, and the European Union (EU) all around. Russia spans 11 time zones and can take advantage of its vast size when it comes to energy generation across the entire country. It also can charge foreign nations for access to its vast airspace or Arctic territorial waters; it can provide reliable international freight shipping via the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Europe to Asia; and it furnishes steady employment for hundreds of thousands of transportation workers. In fact, transportation services account for 10% of Russia's GDP and 6% of all its workers.

The main forms of transport in Russia and other FSU republics are railroads; automotive transport (cars, trucks, buses); air transport; marine and river shipping; and pipelines. The first four can be additionally divided into passenger and freight, as well as local and long-distance. Pipelines are used primarily for movement of liquid fossil fuels and are all long-distance. Additional forms of infrastructure that could be discussed along with transport are power lines, ground telecommunications, and (more recently) wireless telecommunications and satellites; telecommunications are discussed separately later in this chapter.


The Russian railroads are products of the Tsarist and Soviet periods. The Soviet Union had a unified railroad network with a standard wide gauge. The Soviet system was designed for a much larger country than present-day Russia and for far greater capacity: It assumed unimpeded travel across the interior republics' borders, and it was built for a militarized, industry-heavy economy almost twice the size of Russia's economy today. Thus we cannot ignore the legacy of the Soviet period and must pay close attention to the impact it has had on today's transport development. (Wireless and Internet infrastructures, on the other hand, were developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union and do not have the same limitations as the older infrastructure. Geography still plays a role here, however: Kazakhstan's connection to European servers, for example, is most easily accomplished via Russia and Belarus.)

Railroads in Russia are second only to pipelines in the volume of freight shipped and are first in passenger volume. They account for 40% of all freight shipped by weight and 33% of all passengers moved. Russia is in second place in the world after the United States in the overall length of its railways (over 87,000 km), and the first in the total length of electrified railways. Russia also has the widest commercial gauge in the world, at 1,520 mm (the U.S. gauge is 1,465 mm, and the European one is 1,435 mm). With a wider gauge, more cargo per car can be moved, and the car ride is more stable given the same car height. For a country that relies so heavily on railroads, these are important advantages. Russia's railroad network is dense (about 5 km of railways per 1,000 km2 of territory); this is about the same density as China's or about one-quarter of the U.S. level.

Russian railroads are heavily used and are generally in good shape. An overnight ride on a passenger train in Russia is faster, cheaper, and much smoother than a ride on Amtrak, in my personal experience. In the United States, Amtrak has to beg private freight railroads to borrow tracks one train at a time, which results in delays. In Russia, the state-run monopoly Russian Railroads controls all traffic and always gives priority to the passenger trains, which therefore generally run on schedule. In this sense, Russia's railroads work similarly to the French SNCF. In contrast to France, however, Russia does not yet have true high-speed trains. One type of train, the ER-200, achieving speeds of only 200 km/hour (kmh), has been running intermittently between Moscow and St. Petersburg since the late 1980s; a new German-built Sapsan replaced it in 2009.

The first railway in Russia was built in 1837 for the tsars; it connected their summer residence, Tsarskoe Selo, to St. Petersburg. By 1851 Russia had the first public railroad from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Railroads were later built along existing roads like spokes in a wheel, from Moscow to the important regional centers Yaroslavl, Nizhniy Novgorod, Saratov, Simferopol, Novorossiysk, Riga, Kiev, and Warsaw. This is clearly visible on a railroad map of Russia. Moscow has nine major stations, each providing services in a particular direction (Paris, with basically the same general railroad layout, has six). The Trans-Siberian Railroad was mostly finished by 1898 (Montaigne, 1998), but a small segment around Lake Baikal was not completed until World War I. Most construction during the Soviet period focused on expanding the capacity and electrification of existing lines, building a few critical connectors among them, and accessing some new coal- and ore-mining areas in northern European Russia and in Siberia. Important breakthroughs of the Soviet period included construction of Turksib and other Central Asian railroads connecting Almaty and Tashkent in three directions with Barnaul to the northeast, Orenburg to the north, and Astrakhan to the northwest in Russia. Another major new railroad was built to connect Central Russia with the Vorkuta coal mines and labor camps in the Komi Republic, northeast of Moscow. The Baikal–Amur Mainline (BAM)—running parallel to the Trans-Siberian Railroad, but much farther to the north—was started with prison labor in the 1930s, and was eventually finished by the 1990s after a long hiatus. It was built partially in response to the Soviet leadership's concerns over potential invasion from China.

The northernmost functioning railroad in the world remains the short Dudinka–Norilsk–Taynakh line, running along the Yenisei River at 70°N latitude. There is a proposal to connect that line with the Vorkuta–Moscow line in Europe, and even to extend it all the way east to the Bering Strait. There is also a proposal to build a line from Yakutsk toward Chukotka and eventually to North America under the strait. The proposed tunnel would span 109 km and run under water up to 55 m deep. Plans include construction of a corridor for car travel, a rail line, and electric and fiber-optic cables within the tunnel. Some believe that up to 3% of the world's cargo could eventually be moved through the tunnel. Construction of a tunnel underneath the Bering Strait is within today's technological reach, and if completed, such a tunnel would allow uninterrupted railroad and car travel from Europe or Africa to South America. The project would not be feasible without a massive increase in trade between Russia's Pacific Rim and the United States, however, which is unlikely at present.

Although the long-distance trains of Russia have a glamorous reputation because of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the majority of passengers on a daily basis use commuter trains (elektrichki), which run for 100–150 km within and around major cities. An average train in Moscow takes about 5 minutes between stops within the city, and consists of 8–12 designed for about 200 passengers each. These trains complement the metro (subway). Outside the city limits, stations are spaced about 10 minutes apart, offering easy access to the dachas. A lot of people who live outside the city also use the trains for their daily commute.

Automotive Transport

Russia's automotive transport lags far behind that of Western Europe, North America, or most of developed Asia. Russia has about one car per six people at the moment, whereas most Western European countries have one per two. Although Russia has the seventh largest number of vehicles (over 24 million), the road network is not adequate for much intercity or inner-city movement and is only in eighth place worldwide in total length (871,000 km). The United States, by comparison, has over 6.4 million km of highways. The Soviet planners emphasized mass transit in their city plans: trains for betweencity travel, and buses and subways for within-city travel. The road network therefore received less attention.

Another area where Russia lags behind is in road quality. Until just a few years ago, there were no highways in Russia approaching the U.S. interstate system's capacity or possible speed of travel. At this writing, the Moscow beltway and segments of a few highways to the south and west are the only fully divided, multilane highways with controlled access and no traffic lights in the entire country. The Moscow–St. Petersburg highway is reminiscent of average American county roads in places. A typical Russian long-distance national highway is a two-lane asphalt road with potholes, an uneven grade, narrow shoulders, and a practical speed limit of about 80 kmh (<50 mph). In more rural areas, roads even between important regional centers lack asphalt altogether. Incredibly, until 2004 there wasn't a highway connecting Irkutsk and Chita Oblasts in eastern Siberia, making a cross-country car trip from Moscow to Vladivostok impossible. Despite all this, the car ownership rate in Russia has almost tripled since the fall of the U.S.S.R. and is expected to grow farther. There is frantic road construction throughout the country. Still, the 19th-century saying attributed to Nikolai Gogol rings true today: “Of all the problems, the two main ones in Russia are fools and roads.”

Besides the dramatic rise in private car usage, there has been also an increase in long-distance bus service in many parts of the country—both to compensate for high rail prices and less convenient train schedules, and to reach more destinations. For example, from Novosibirsk one can travel by long-distance buses to Tomsk and Barnaul (5 hours each), Kemerovo and Biysk (7 hours), Semipalatinsk (8 hours), and even Almaty (20+ hours). Although trains are available to all of these destinations, buses are cheaper and have more flexible schedules. On the local level, innercity buses, trolleybuses, and tramways serve millions of commuters daily. In fact, about 80% of all those commuting to work in Russian cities do so by bus—the reverse of the U.S. pattern, where over 90% commute by private car. Tramways (old-fashioned street cars) are generally being phased out, as they increasingly compete with cars for the same congested streets. St. Petersburg has the most extensive tram system in Russia. Electric trolleybuses are more popular because they do not require rails. Buses move over 90% of all city passengers in Russia among above-ground mass transit forms. The majority of those bus trips are intraurban, 15% are suburban, and <1% are long-distance. An increasingly popular option is the marshrutka (minibus service). Typically private, these minibuses run along the same routes as regular city buses, but stop only on demand and provide faster service for the same price.

Although long-distance freight is mainly carried by railroads, if measured by cargo moved per kilometer, trucks and pickups are increasingly commonly used for shorter trips. In fact, trucks are definitely visible in Russia today, with hundreds of them hauling freight along all the major highways, much as they do in the United States. The true long-distance trucks, however, are not nearly as prevalent as in the United States; most trucks are used on local delivery trips of 10–50 km. Long-distance truck traffic is heaviest in western European Russia between Poland and Moscow and St. Petersburg and Moscow. Trucks are also common along the Trans-Siberian corridor. Trucks mostly move high-value import items in Russia (electronics or refrigerated food), with heavier and cheaper freight (e.g., construction materials or lumber) being hauled almost exclusively by the railroads. Compared to the United States, though, trucks move a minuscule amount of freight in Russia (less than 1%, vs. 67% for U.S. trucks)!

Air Travel

Air travel is the most common and familiar long-distance travel option in North America. Although travel by car is almost always cheaper even cross-country, the high speed of air travel more than compensates for the price in our fastpaced world, and flying is chosen by most U.S. passengers who travel over 1,000 km each way. In the mid-1990s, U.S. domestic air passengers accounted for about 10% of all passenger-miles traveled, whereas rail and bus travel together accounted for only 3.5%. The Europeans and Japanese tend to fly less (e.g., the EU's original 15 members' proportion of airline passenger-miles is only 6.5% of the total) because of the competitiveness of high-speed trains. In Russia only 14% of travel happens by plane, as compared to 40% by automobile and 33% by train. The proportion of air travel is higher than in the United States because a lot fewer people travel by private car in Russia (under 10% of all passenger-kilometers, as opposed to almost 85% in the United States). With respect to freight, virtually nothing travels by air in Russia except express mail, high-value perishable goods, and military equipment. The airline industry can be best thought of as consisting of a few key interlinked parts: aircraft, airlines, and airports. All were developed in the Soviet Union for interurban and especially interregional traffic. Russia was not the first nation in the world to have commercial air flights, but by World War II there was a regular passenger air service from Moscow to Kamchatka and back, with a few stops in between. Mass production of war planes helped to improve civilian aviation after the war was over. Small cities were served by An-2 biplanes, and in Siberia and the north by Mi-8 helicopters. In 1956, the Tu-104 became one of the first passenger jets flown commercially in the world. In the 1960s, large passenger jets (Tu-154 and Il-62) began providing service on long-distance routes, and hundreds of airports were opened. The Soviet Union's Aeroflot had the largest airline fleet in the world and served 87 countries. It flew exclusively Soviet-built planes and was the only domestic carrier in the country at the time.

Since the late 1980s there has been a dramatic decline in the production of new planes due to the economic slowdown. With reforms in 1992 came the near-collapse of the air travel system because of increased fuel prices and safety concerns, as well as shrinkage of the available pool of pilots, mechanics, and airport staff. A few dozen private airlines were created out of the old Aeroflot regional units (e.g., Sibir, KrasAir, Pulkovo Airlines, UTair, and DalAvia). This did not help to create competition, as was initially thought, because each airline remained a virtual monopolist in its own region. For example, over 80% of all flights out of Tolmachevo Airport in Novosibirsk are carried by the locally based Sibir (S7) airline. A few airlines were created from scratch and have tried to follow Western business models using Western airplanes (e.g., Transaero in Russia and Air Astana in Kazakhstan). However, despite an increase in competition and attempts to improve air safety, little else has been done to increase air travel.

In terms of safety, a big problem is the obsolete fleet. The Tu-154 was a very reliable airplane when it started flying in the 1970s, but today these planes are at least 20 years old. Maintenance is spotty, and some spare parts installed on planes are known to be counterfeits. Although foreign planes are now gradually replacing the old Soviet models, they are not necessarily much safer either. The imported airplanes flown by Russian carriers are typically old Boeing and Airbus models, discarded after many years of leased service in South Africa, Poland, or Brazil. Moreover, Russian maintenance facilities are not always able to service foreign models properly, and there is also a shortage of pilots trained to fly Western airplanes. Aeroflot and the flagship airlines of some FSU republics are flying new leased aircraft and can be considered more reliable than most regional carriers. Of all major airlines in Russia today, only about five can be recommended as reliable for domestic flights. Aeroflot remains the leading carrier in Russia, with 12% of domestic and 45% of international flights, and aims to increase its domestic share to 25% in the next few years.

To put anyone at ease who is planning a trip to Russia, most of the crashes that have made headlines in recent years there were actually quite unrelated to the mechanical soundness of the planes. Two airliners were downed by Chechen suicide bombers in 2004, highlighting the reality of terrorism in the country, and two crashed in 2006 because of preventable pilot errors. The FSU is certainly not the safest place in the world to fly, but it is not the worst either. If the entire airspace of the FSU is considered, between 1990 and 2007 there were only 23 fatal accidents involving commercial airplanes, of which 18 occurred in Russia. A few more happened abroad, mainly on charter flights. Over the same period of time, 10 accidents occurred in India, 15 in China, 16 in Latin America, and over 30 in Africa. North America had 30 accidents over the same period of time, including the four airplanes lost on September 11, 2001. However, the United States has over 8.5 million airplane departures per year, as compared to only 330,000 in Russia, so the U.S. accident rate per passenger is of course much lower than Russia's.

Moscow is by far the busiest air hub in Russia. The busiest three airports in Russia surround Moscow: Domodedovo to the southeast, Sheremetyevo to the northwest, and Vnukovo to the southwest. Domodedovo International Airport is the busiest in Russia, with over 20 million passengers per year, while Sheremetyevo gets 15 million and Vnukovo 8 million; thus the total for Moscow is 43 million air passengers per year. By contrast, the busiest passenger airport in the world, Hartsfield–Jackson International in Atlanta, Georgia, served 90 million passengers in 2008. So, despite Moscow's having over 11 million residents, the total number of air passengers in and out of the city was only slightly more than at the Minneapolis–St. Paul (MSP) International Airport, which serves a region of only about 4 million. All three Moscow airports are now connected to the city center with express trains and convenient bus shuttles.

The fourth largest airport in Russia is Pulkovo near St. Petersburg, serving about 7 million passengers per year. Other important air hubs include Tyumen, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok in Siberia, as well as Samara, Yekaterinburg, and Nizhniy Novgorod in European Russia, and the vacation destinations Sochi, Anapa, Krasnodar, and Mineralnye Vody in the Caucasus region. In other FSU countries, Kiev's airport is the busiest, with about 6 million passengers per year; the airports of Almaty, Tashkent, and Baku are also prominent. In contrast, Minsk and Ashgabat see very few air passengers.

Whereas about 30 of the biggest airports remain busy in Russia, about 600 airports serving medium-sized cities have been shut down or have had only occasional charter service since the 1990s. In the European part of the country, buses and trains can serve these cities well, but in Siberia and the distant north, the disappearance of small airports may spell doom to the local economy. The most active smaller airports are located in oil-rich western Siberia, where even cities of 20,000–50,000 residents have modern airports to serve the oil crews. In other parts of the country, even cities with 200,000–300,000 people may not have a functioning airport any more. Clearly, there is an ample business opportunity waiting here. A few national initiatives in 2007 and 2008 were seeking to provide federal incentives for additional airport development, but their impact remains to be seen.

Russian air travel tends to be expensive, due to lack of competition and high domestic fuel prices (Derudder et al., 2007). Russian airports are also among the most remote on the planet from the biggest global hubs; Zook and Brunn (2006) found that Novosibirsk is about as remote as Majuro, Marshall Islands, for example. Air travel in Russia is less expensive than in Africa, but more expensive than in Europe, Asia, or North America. A project in my Geography of Russia class surveyed airfares between the top 25 cities in Russia in spring 2007. The average oneway airfare was about $300. The most expensive destinations were naturally the most remote ones, with little competition among the air carriers: A trip from Moscow to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk would cost $667 one way, for example. The distance traveled in this case is about the same as between Boston and Anchorage (6,500 km), a trip that would cost about half of that price in the same year. (Bear in mind that Russia's incomes on average are only one-quarter of the U.S. level, so the relative expense of flying in Russia is much greater.) Russia remains poorly connected to North America in particular; only Aeroflot, Transaero, Delta, United Airlines, and Air Canada had regular service in and out of Russia as of summer 2010.

The FSU's airspace is not exclusively populated by travelers in and out of Russia. Every FSU republic now has its own national carrier, and some have additional private airlines. One of the most successful non-Russian carriers today is Air Astana, the flagship carrier of Kazakhstan. It took over the bankrupt old government airline, hired a Western-born chief executive officer, and completely changed to a Western model of doing business. It flies to about 30 destinations worldwide, including Moscow, London, Beijing, Seoul, Bangkok, and Amsterdam, using primarily new A-320 jets. Its service is good, and its pricing is competitive. Almaty remains the largest city in Kazakhstan, with a newly opened international airport terminal. However, because the city is no longer the capital, it receives fewer government travelers than the much smaller new political capital, Astana. Ukraine has a few airlines based in Kiev. Like Aeroflot, they largely inherited the old Soviet aircraft, which is now in urgent need of replacement. Other than Russia, Ukraine was the only republic that assembled airplanes in the Soviet period—in particular, Antonov turboprops and some military models. Hundreds of these are still flying around the world, especially in Africa, where they are frequently flown by Ukrainian crews.

Water Transport

Water transport was formerly well developed in Northern Eurasia, but is slowly dying out. Ocean-going vessels remain important: Russia is in 10th place worldwide as ranked by marine tonnage and has almost 4,000 marine vessels in civilian use, not counting the navy. The most common ocean-going ships are fishing boats (trawlers, seiners, etc.). There are also 720 general-purpose cargo ships and 215 petroleum tankers in use. However, Russia's lack of refrigerator, container, roll-on/roll-off, and other specialized modern ships hampers freight shipping. For example, only 14 container ships were operated out of Russia in 2007, as compared to 82 in the United States. The number of ocean-going vessels continues to drop. Over 60% of all Russian ships are sailing under flags of other countries to avoid registration taxes, so the statistics are not easy to obtain. The most common types of marine cargo are petroleum products, coal, timber, grain, sand, gravel, fertilizer, and metal ores.

The busiest area of marine shipping for the Soviet Union was traditionally the Black Sea, which allows trade with the Middle East and Europe via the Bosporus Strait. Novorossiysk currently is the busiest port in Russia, shipping about 50 million metric tonnes (mmt) per year. By comparison, the busiest port in France, Marseille, handles over 100 mmt per year, and the busiest in the world, Singapore, handles over 340 mmt. Other important seaports on the Black Sea include Tuapse, Rostov-on-Don, and Taganrog in Russia, and Odessa, Kerch, Sevastopol, Kherson, and Nikolaev in Ukraine. Georgia has important ports at Batumi and Poti.

St. Petersburg is the second busiest port in Russia, with about 20 mmt moved per year. New terminals are being built north and south of St. Petersburg to accommodate the increase in petroleum exports across the Baltic Sea (e.g., at Primorsk). Kaliningrad is a strategically important port between Poland and Lithuania. Baltic ports are Tallinn and Parnu in Estonia; Riga, Ventspils, and Liepaja in Latvia; and Klaipeda in Lithuania. Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in European Russia account for over three-quarters of all cargo shipped in the Russian Arctic. Murmansk is the only port open year-round in the north, because of the warm Norwegian current. It is a multipurpose port with a significant navy presence. Arkhangelsk specializes in shipping timber. Along the northern shores of Russia, Dixon, Dudinka, Igarka, Tiksi, and Pevek receive oceanic traffic a few months per year along the famous Great Northern Route. Even with nuclear-powered icebreakers, there is too much ice in winter there at present to keep them operating year-round east of Dudinka. This may be changing with global warming within the next few decades, but at present Russia must build new icebreakers to replace the aging ones that have been in service since 1959.

In the Far East, the largest cargo ports are all in the south: Vostochny (13 mmt), Nakhodka (11 mmt), Vladivostok (5.5 mmt), and Vanino (5 mmt). Their specialties are fishing, timber and ore shipping, and importing Asian consumer goods. Petropavlovsk, Magadan, and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk have strategic importance for the Russian Navy, which keeps its nuclear submarines there. The inner Caspian Sea basin has two major Russian ports, Makhachkala and Astrakhan. They are mostly used for fishing and shipping petroleum products, and account for less than 1% of all sea shipping in the country. Other ports on the Caspian include Baku in Azerbaijan; Atyrau and Aqtau in Kazakhstan; and Turkmenbashi in Turkmenistan.

Virtually no passengers travel by sea any more in the FSU. Some European cruise lines call on St. Petersburg in their “seven capitals” voyages around the Baltic Sea. Limited ferry lines and suburban commuter boat rides existed during the Soviet period in the Baltics, on the Crimea Peninsula, and along the Black Sea coast, but most of these are history now. A handful of boats continue to operate pleasure cruises along the shorelines. River passenger traffic has suffered a similar fate: Scheduled ferries no longer serve the major European rivers in Russia (e.g., the Oka, Volga, or Neva). Most boats that you see on rivers now are either small private motorboats or cruise ships. Freighters and barges are still plentiful, although not nearly as common as in the late Soviet period. Back then, an observer along the Oka River between Ryazan and Murom would have counted over a dozen ships per hour traveling in either direction. Today an observer will be lucky to see one. A typical Russian river-going ship is a self-propelled barge with a capacity of 2,000–3,000 metric tonnes. Some of these vessels can sail into the open sea, and most carry loose material (e.g., gravel, sand, stone, grain, or fertilizer). Petroleum products and timber are also commonly transported by river.

The busiest river watershed in Russia remains the Volga–Kama system, moving about half of all in-country river cargo. The second busiest is the Ob system, which extends upstream into Kazakhstan via the Irtysh and downstream all the way to the Arctic Ocean. Some parts of Siberia and the North have rivers as their only connections to the world at large, given the lack of roads and airports. Overall, Russia has over 100,000 km of navigable interior waterways, about three-quarters of which are in the European part of the country. The extensive canals permit travel from the Black Sea up the Don into the Volga, and then all the way to either St. Petersburg or the White Sea coast via Moscow, earning Russia's capital the nickname “port of five seas.”


Russia is the queen of pipelines. It has more of them than any country except the United States by overall length, and carries more products via pipelines than any other country. The first pipeline in Russia was an 853-km kerosene pipeline from Baku to Batumi in the Caucasus, built in 1907. The U.S.S.R. had fewer than 2,000 km of petroleum pipelines built before World War II, but over 66,000 km by 1990. The peak of pipeline construction occurred in the 1980s, when some of the key components of both petroleum and gas pipeline networks were laid out between Eastern Europe and the western Siberian oil and gas fields (Starobin, 2008). For example, the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline connected the Almetyevsk refinery center in Tatarstan with Samara, Mozyr, and eventually Brest in Belarus. This remains the top export line for Russian oil today. Its celebrated gas counterpart is the Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod line, which is the world's longest at 4,451 km. Russia had over 44,000 km of petroleum pipelines and over 150,000 km of gas pipelines in 2008.

Although less glamorous than trains or planes, pipelines move more freight, about 55% of the total. Of these, 59% move natural gas and 41% move petroleum. Gas pipelines are operated by Gazprom, and petroleum pipelines by the Transneft monopolies. Individual oil companies, which are numerous in Russia, have to purchase transit rights from the state-run Transneft, thus ensuring the Kremlin's control over a strategic resource. The majority of pipelines run from northeast to southwest—from Yamal Peninsula and the Western Siberian Lowland across the Urals to the refineries of the Volga basin, and beyond to consumers in Central Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the EU. A pipeline recently completed from Baku to Tbilisi, Georgia, to Ceyhan, Turkey (BTC), with heavy American and European involvement, completely bypasses Russia and thus seriously undermines the Putin–Medvedev administration's attempts to control all petroleum flows in and out of the Caspian basin. A large pipeline like the BTC can carry up to 1 million barrels of oil per day. If you recall that Russia produces “only” 9 million barrels per day, all it needs is about nine large lines. However, many pipelines are much smaller and serve local markets.

A new petroleum pipeline is being built east from Angarsk near Lake Baikal to China and Japan. Transneft's original plan to route the line around the northern end of Lake Baikal met with unprecedented opposition from the public and required Putin's direct involvement. Lake Baikal is located in a seismically active zone, and even a mild spill into the lake would prove disastrous to its ecology. The current plans call for the pipeline to bypass the lake over 100 km to the north. Additional pipelines are being built in European Russia to the areas near St. Petersburg and to the Barents Sea. When these are completed, more oil from Russia will flow to European and even American consumers, bypassing the politically hostile regimes of Eastern Europe.

The first natural gas pipeline was built between Moscow and Saratov in 1940. One of the most important remains the Urengoy–Pomary–Uzhgorod export system, which ushered in the current era of Russia's major exports of natural gas to Central and Western Europe. Another one, the Soyuz pipeline, connects Orenburg with Uzhgorod in western Ukraine. Turkmenistan, a major natural gas producer, is connected to Europe via Russia-operated pipelines. However, the Nabucco company is now proposing a new gas line under the Caspian Sea to Baku and Turkey, to avoid Russia altogether. Most of Russia's and Turkmenistan's gas is exported to Europe via Ukraine, whose leadership has recently been at odds with Russia's government-controlled Gazprom over the price for transshipment. To counterbalance the proposed Nabucco pipeline and avoid issues with Ukraine, Russia operates the Blue Stream pipeline under water from Russia to Turkey and is planning a new Southern Stream line from Tuapse into Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Slovenia. Yet another gas pipeline is being built under the Baltic Sea from St. Petersburg to Germany (the Northern Stream). This project is favored by Germany and Russia, but is opposed by Estonia and Poland on both political and environmental grounds.

Building and running pipelines are expensive. The Southern Stream construction alone is estimated to cost between $10 and $14 billion. Gas leaks are especially dangerous, because they may lead to explosions. In the cold climate of Siberia, petroleum must be heated to flow through the pipelines. The possibility of terrorists' sabotaging a pipeline also exists in Russia. Nevertheless, the current political regime clearly has the strategic goal of supplying more and more of the world with fossil fuels from Russia. The question remains how much of these fuels will last. If recent estimates by the World Energy Group are correct, Russia has less than 10 years' worth of petroleum left in its existing oil fields, and little will be available after that unless a dramatic increase in exploration takes place immediately, which is very unlikely. Gas is more plentiful and will probably be still available 25 years from now.

As the preceding discussion has made clear, Russia has major achievements but also major problems with its transport infrastructure. What about the less tangible infrastructure, such as telecommunications and the Internet? This brings us to the broader question of high technology in Russia.