Staunton, October 10 – The state of Russia’s road system, which now ranks 136th out of 144 countries evaluated, is so bad that even Vladimir Putin, who recently has been given to upbeat statements about the country, has had to change his tone. But his comments in Novosibirsk yesterday suggest that he won’t or can’t change the main underlying problems.
According to commentator Aleksandr Ivakhnik, Putin’s public statements in recent times have seldom featured any critical comments about the situation in Russia. Instead, the Kremlin leader has preferred to stress his confidence about the basic stability of the economy and its good future prospects.
But at a meeting of the presidium of the State Council on the day after his birthday break, Putin changed his approach and spoke about the real problems of what he said was “a vitally important” sector of the Russian economy, one that other participants painted in even darker colors than he.
Rustam Minnikhanov, the president of Tatarstan and head of the State Council working group on roads, told the Novosibirsk meeting that 53 percent of federal highways and 63 percent of regional ones are substandard and that the situation is growing worse: Every year, the number of cars in Russia rises by six percent, but the highway system expands only 2200 kilometers.
In his speech, Putin said that the road sector remained “a difficult and problematic issue,” with any resolution of current problems being a matter for the future. He suggested that the quality of existing roads had not improved despite massive spending and that the size of the network is insufficient to support economic growth.
The Kremlin leader blamed this on corruption, the lack of oversight, and the failure to update standards set 30 years ago. As a result, he said, “from year to year are rebuilt one and the same set of roads,” with no improvement in their quality or any opportunity to increase the size of the network.
Putin also expressed concern about the growth in prices for construction materials, a development that he said there was no justification for and that almost certainly reflected corruption in this branch. And he said officials needed to address the problem created when heavy trucks use roads intended primarily for automobiles.
“This is not a simple question,” the Russian president said, “but it must be resolved.”
Despite Putin’s comments, Ivakhnik says, the Novosibirsk discussion highlighted why nothing much can be expected anytime soon. Minnikhanov pointed out that the regions which are responsible for construction and repair of roads have lost the funds that they were supposed to get for this and Moscow’s plans to transfer more money to them won’t make up for that.
But of greater concern, the Russian commentator said, was another aspect of the Novosibirsk meeting: While Putin talked bluntly about the problems of the road sector, he “avoided making any categorical demands of the government,” and that suggests that nothing is likely to change for the better anytime soon.