Kremlin Plans Tunnel To the White House

Herrenknecht.comA Herrenknecht boring machine being used to extend Los Angeles' subway.
The government is considering an ambitious plan to dig an enormous tunnel linking Dmitry Medvedev's Kremlin and Vladimir Putin's White House, speeding up the impending cross-town trip for ministers and high-ranking officials, two officials said Monday.

The multibillion-dollar design, promoted as a way to reduce bureaucracy and ease traffic gridlock, would include a two-lane highway and possibly displace the British Embassy, said the officials, who asked for anonymity so they could speak with candor.

"No one's really sure what's going to happen, but this seems like the simplest way to alleviate the traffic jams as bureaucrats rush between the Kremlin and White House on official business," said one official, who works in the Kremlin.

Medvedev will take the president's office in the Kremlin after his inauguration on May 7, and he has promised to appoint his mentor, Putin, as prime minister. The prime minister's office is in the White House, about 2 kilometers west of the Kremlin.

Speculation has swirled over who will be in charge once Putin leaves the Kremlin, but the tunnel plan sheds little light on that issue.

The two officials said the tunnel plan was preliminary, so few details were available about the exact cost and when it might open. The route is also still being worked out, but one version would require the relocation of the British Embassy compound from Smolenskaya Naberezhnaya to a former furniture factory in northern Moscow, the Kremlin official said.

"This is not the best solution considering our relations, but it is easier than expelling them all," the official said, referring to diplomatic tensions after Russia rejected Britain's request last year to extradite a suspect in Alexander Litvinenko's poisoning death.

The British Embassy issued a terse no comment when asked about the tunnel Monday.

Billionaire Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich might be tapped to help out with the project, the Kremlin official said. A construction company owned by Abramovich recently paid more than 100 million euros ($158 million) for the world's largest drilling machine, built by Germany's Herrenknecht. A spokesman for Abramovich said he was unaware of any interest in using the monster, 19-meter diameter earthmover to connect the Kremlin and White House.

Britain's Sunday Times, citing a Kremlin source, reported last weekend that the drilling machine might be used to dig a tunnel between Chukotka and Alaska in an effort to build a "genuine bridge" between Russia and the United States. The idea of building such a tunnel has been discussed for years.

The Kremlin official said federal ministers and Kremlin aides were already quarreling over who would take precedence in using the tunnel. Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who looks set to become a deputy prime minister in a Putin-led Cabinet, is insisting that rights to the tunnel should be given in order of age, the official said, while Kremlin deputy chief of staff Igor Sechin is demanding that Transportation Minister Igor Levitin be made to walk.

The Cabinet is to discuss the proposal April 1.