Thursday, November 27, 2008

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Proposes Building ‘Super Canal’ from Arctic to Persian Gulf

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 27 – A group of Russian scholars has proposed building a canal and associated rail lines and highways from the Arctic Ocean to the Persian Gulf, the largest construction project in the history of mankind and one that would radically transform the economic and political relationships of en enormous swath of Eurasia.
Speaking at an international conference in Tashkent on innovative ideas, Damir Ryskulov, a Moscow specialist on information systems and economics, presented his ideas on the development of a Transcaspian Development Corridor from the Yamal Peninsula in the north to the Caspian Sea and beyond to the Persian Gulf (
As part of this project, he also called for the construction of another canal to link the Caspian Sea with the Black Sea and in this way create “a single system” connecting the Kars and Arabian Seas via a shorter and less expensive route than ever before in the history of the countries along these routes.
The project, which Ryskulov estimated will cost 100 to 150 billion dollars and take 15 years to complete, would require the agreement of and support from Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran as well as from countries that would benefit from its construction in southwest and southeast Asia.
The main canal, he said, would extend nearly 6,000 kilometers, be 100 meters wide, at least 15 meters deep, and would require more earth to be moved than in any other construction project ever. He added that the canal would unlined but would nonetheless not lose more than seven percent of its water volume through evaporation and filtration.
Such an enormous effort is justified, the Moscow economist suggested, because the project would earn for its participants seven to ten billion dollars a year as well as helping these countries to expand their cooperation and to get out from under the domination of other powers that control other trade routes.
According to Ryskulov, this enormous and enormously expensive project already has some powerful supporters in Russia, including Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov who has also advocated pursuing Siberian river reversal and Aleksandr Filippenko, the governor of the Khanty-Mansiisk Autonomous District.
Indeed, the Moscow scholar said, they were behind the formation of the group now working on this project, a group that he said includes “qualified specialists from various scientific disciplines” and that is preparing a detailed set of studies and proposals for the consideration of government leaders.
While such a project would dramatically improve economic conditions in the Urals region of the Russian Federation and expand Moscow’s influence over the countries along the canal’s route, its size, while appealing to the kind of gigantist impulse that has often informed Russian thinking, makes its construction any time soon highly unlikely.
And many of those who would have to support it are certain to be skeptical. Indeed, when Ryskulov presented his ideas in Tashkent as “a trial balloon,” he received a “cool” reception from his audience, and the Uzbek media did not even consider it worth including in its write up of the meeting.

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