By Paul Goble
Russia is building fewer new roads than it did in Soviet times, 70 times fewer than China, has actually seen its number fall since 2000, but has worked hard under Vladimir Putin to hide just how disastrous the situation is by manipulating statistics in a way not done in any other country.
In 2000, Moscow declared that there were 532,000 kilometers of public roads in Russia. In 2015, it said that there were 1,045,000. But in fact, there was no real growth and indeed a small decline, Novyye izvestiya reports this week (newizv.ru/article/general/01-11-2017/v-rossii-stroyat-v-70-raz-menshe-dorog-chem-v-kitae).
What happened was this, the Moscow paper says. Russian officials started counting driveways and other private roads as public highways, something not done elsewhere. “If one corrects the statistics” to bring them into line with international standards, the actual length of highways in Russia fell from 532,000 in 2000 to 525,000 in 2016.
And that declined happened despite government reports saying that the country had built 47,000 kilometers of new roads and repaired many others. Even if one accepts the 47,000 figure, Russia under Putin is constructing only one seventh as many new kilometers of highway each year as the RSFSR did in the 1980s.
But the situation is actually much worse than that number suggests, the paper continues. If one speaks about high quality rods, lacking potholes and secure for speeds of 100 kilometers an hour or more by 25,000 cars a day with six lanes or more, then Russia is far behind the developed world.
Russia has 816 kilometers of such roads, the paper continues. The US has 75,000 km; Britain, 6,000; Germany, 12,900; Japan 7400; and Brazil, 10,000. Europe as a whole up to the borders of the CIS has 81,000 kilometers of such highways, slightly more than does the United States.
But a comparison with China is even more depressing for Russia. It now has 108,000 kilometers of first-class and second-class roads that meet European standards, has expanded its network by 1000 percent since 2000, and passed the US in 2010. By 2020, at current rates, China will have more such roads than all of Europe plus the US, Japan and South Korea taken together.
At present, the Moscow paper continues, “China is building quality high-speed roads at a rate of more than 26,000 kilometers a year.” Russia is building 300 to 350 km, “75 to 90 times fewer than China.” And if one counts all roads, China has 70 times more kilometers of them than does Russia.
As of last year, 93 percent of Chinese roads met international stands; only 38 percent of Russians ones do. China has 4.1 million kilometers of paved roads; Russia has only about one million. Of those that can be used by high-speed traffic, China has 15 times as many as Russia does.
Compared to Russia, Novyye izvestiya reports, “China is flying into another galaxy,” leaving Russia and especially its impoverished and largely road-free regions east of the Urals in the dust.