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Cablegate: The Moscow to St. Petersburg Road: Challenge And

VZCZCXRO4284
RR RUEHLN RUEHVK RUEHYG
DE RUEHMO #1634 1610845
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 090845Z JUN 08 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8484
INFO RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 4973
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 2859
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 3202
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHDC

UNCLAS MOSCOW 001634

C O R R E C T E D C O P Y (ADDED ENDING SIGNATURE)

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EUR/RUS, EEB/TPP/IPE
STATE PLS PAS USTR PBURKEHEAD
USDOC 4231 FOR JBROUGHER, MEDWARDS, JTHOMPSON

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ECON ETRD KIPR RS
SUBJECT: THE MOSCOW TO ST. PETERSBURG ROAD: CHALLENGE AND
OPPORTUNITY

1. (U) Summary: Nowhere is the dilapidated state of Russia's roads
more evident than with the highway connecting the country's two
largest cities: Moscow and St. Petersburg. The crumbling,
pot-holed, congested, two-lane M10 is called the "highway of death"
by Russia's Head of Traffic Police. The road's current dilapidated
condition, seven years into Russia's economic revival, symbolizes
the challenges the country's deteriorating infrastructure poses to
continued growth. The government's plans to build a high-speed
road, starting this year and due to be completed in 2013, will in
turn symbolize the country's renewed prosperity. End summary.

-----------------------
An Officer's Travel Log
-----------------------

2. (U) The drive from Moscow to St. Petersburg is treacherous and
slow, as one Embassy officer can attest. The 700 kilometer trip
took the officer 9 hours there and 11 hours back - making for an
average speed of 70 kilometers an hour - or a bit over 30 miles per
hour. The "highway" was bottle-necked and pot-holed throughout. In
some places it was just two lanes and in other places whole
stretches of the road disappeared as paved highway turned into dirt
country road without warning.

3. (U) Accidents were frequent, on what the head of the government's
traffic police calls the "highway of death." (According to
government statistics, about 1,500 people die on the M10 every year,
most in head-on collisions.) Trucks frequently swerved onto
oncoming traffic to avoid potholes, narrowly missing cars.
Throughout the journey, powerful headlights of the oncoming rigs
reflected off heavy rain, creating a binding glare and an unholy
mist that shrunk night visibility to zero. Drivers engaged in a
game of chicken when the two-lane road gained another lane,
sometimes only several meters long. Cars and trucks would speed up
to overtake other vehicles and then when the third lane ended,
swerved suddenly back into an already congested, slow-moving lane.

4. (U) Signs of civilization were sparse between towns. Although
the "Gaishniki" or traffic police were ubiquitous, frequently
stopping cars to check drivers' documents, road services were all
but non-existent. Gas stations, some modern with mini-mart stores
and pay-per-use restroom facilities, would be encountered at random
intervals. Neglected peasant huts, nearly falling over, with wooden
walls black and half rotted from years without paint were a more
frequent sight. Along the shoulders, there was a slow trade in just
about everything: potatoes, berries, mushrooms, bath towels and
cheap plastic toys.

-------------------------
Rebuilding Russia's Roads
-------------------------

5. (SBU) The road from Moscow to St. Petersburg is one of the most
visible symbols of the country's infrastructure problems. According
to Renaissance Capital's Research Director, Roland Nash, the country
has systematically failed to invest in its infrastructure over the
past 15 year and as a result now has at least a trillion dollars in
unmet infrastructure needs. Much of Russia's road system is in
complete despair: one-third of federal highways do not meet required
standards of safety and maintenance and more than two-thirds of
local roads are in need of major repairs. The poor state of the
country's roads has long been a source of discontent for Russians
and is now also emerging as a major obstacle to continued economic
growth.

6. (SBU) Russia's new government appears determined to address the
country's infrastructure needs in general and the poor state of the
roads in particular. Construction of a new high-speed Moscow-St.
Petersburg road is at the top of the list of planned projects, with
President Medevedev having stated earlier this year that
construction would start this year. Although to date no plans have
been made public, the French concern Vinci, Europe's largest
construction company, has reportedly signed a memorandum of
understanding with Ministry of Transportation to build a toll road
between the two cities at a cost of $14 billion in a public-private
partnership agreement. The new road, to be completed by 2013,
should cut the driving time between the two cities in half and will
be an important symbol of Russia's restored prosperity.

RUSSELL

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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