Pakistani and Chinese workers at the site of a Belt and Road project in northern Pakistan. Photo: AFP
Pakistani and Chinese workers at the site of a Belt and Road project in northern Pakistan. Photo: AFP

Vladislav Inozemtsev writes for the Jamestown Foundation this week on why Moscow’s hopes for the China-led One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative are at odds with Beijing’s vision, and far exceed Russia’s capacity to meet the challenges.

While Russia’s goals are focused on building a closer union with post-Soviet States, China is searching for new markets for exports from its western provinces with a results driven approach. Aside from the incompatibility of these two visions, there is also the question of whether Russia’s specific proposals are even feasible.

Inozemtsev outlines three potential OBOR routes, and why the Kremlin’s proposals are unrealistic:

“Russia has long wanted a major trans-Eurasian OBOR highway originating in China to pass through Kazakhstan, lead northward to Orenburg, Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod, bypass Moscow via the newly constructed Central Ring Road and proceed either across Belarus to Poland or via St. Peters­burg to Finland […]

But herein lies a problem: in the last decade, Russia built only 1,900 km of quality highways throughout the country […] Moreover, the construction costs are astronomically high; the Moscow bypass alone will cost around $25 billion or $50 million per kilometer (, May 16), which may exceed any reasonable expectations for affordable overland transit costs across Russia.

Therefore the option to ship goods from Xinjiang to Kazakhstani or Turkmenistani ports on the Caspian Sea and then, via Azerbaijan and Georgia, to Turkey looks more promising […]

A third option also exists to build a modern highway from China to Pakistan, to take Chinese goods either to the port of Gwadar, on the Arabian Sea, or once again to Turkey and Europe via Iran. This route, in fact, became partially operational last November (Asia Times, November 16, 2016). Nevertheless, fully pursuing this op­tion will be challenging because of the contested so­vereignty over Kashmir”

While there are challenges facing the development of all three of these potential routes, Inozemtsev argues that the Kremlin’s limited resources, and incompatible vision for OBOR doom Russia to a marginal role in the initiative.

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