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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Railway Bridge Is Aksyonenko Family Affair?

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The government has given the nod to a plan to construct a bridge linking the mainland with the Far Eastern island of Sakhalin. The plan was developed by the Railways Ministry, headed by Nikolai Aksyonenko. The 10-kilometer bridge and 570-kilometer railway link will take about eight years to build at a cost of $4.5 billion, and the whole thing should break even by 2030.

Aksyonenko is asking that his ministry's 25 billion ruble ($848 million) debt to the budget be restructured in order to implement this huge project. In post-Soviet Russia, it seems, we're just as keen on building as they were in ancient Egypt.

Renovation of the Kremlin cost the treasury $2 billion paid to Mabetex and the Mercata trading company. The Swiss prosecutor's office says that a considerable portion of these funds ended up in the private accounts of Pavel Borodin and other members of the Kremlin Family.

Now the indefatigable Borodin is pushing a project to build a parliamentary center in St. Petersburg (with a price tag of a mere $2 billion), and his successor as Kremlin bursar, Vladimir Kozhin, has plans to erect a giant hotel-and-auction complex on Red Square.

Unlike Borodin, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov gained acclaim for three building projects undertaken in parallel: the Christ the Savior Cathedral, the Manezh shopping center and the Moscow Ring Road, or MKAD. It is said that during the building of the Manezh, one of the contractors coined a wise phrase about how "the amount of money you can bury underground simply defies calculation."

Among the poverty and yurts of the republic of Kalmykia, the president, Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, built his fairytale Chess City.

To much fanfare, former Tyumen region Governor Leonid Roketsky opened the long-awaited motorway that was to traverse the entire region. There are pictures of the speechmaking, but just as it was in the beginning, there is no road. Amen.

Sverdlovsk region Governor, Eduard Rossel, undertook the construction of an oncological center. The money came from an extra-budgetary fund, to which all enterprises in the region "voluntarily" contributed. The center has yet to be completed, though the money was collected from just about everybody in the run-up to the gubernatorial election campaign.

Yaroslavl region Governor, Anatoly Lisitsyn, built an Ice Sports Palace in the city of Yaroslavl. The Kremlin came up with a unique scheme for financing the project: Russian oil companies were told to supply oil to one small firm, Arena-2000; the firm sold the oil and built the palace.

The bridge to Sakhalin is not the first Railways Ministry project of this kind. It was preceded by the VSM affair, which was to have seen construction of a high-speed rail link between Moscow and St. Petersburg. The government guaranteed VSM's obligations to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars and is settling the debts to this day. The only trace of the building project of the century is a vast trench dug alongside the Moscow railroad station in St. Petersburg.

Among the ministry's other projects, a $72 million cultural and health center planned for Moscow and a church in Tsaritsyno to be built by the Baltic Construction Company with ministry funds, particularly stand out. It is said that BCC, which is run by Sergei Aksyonenko, one of the railway minister's nephews, is a prime contender for the Sakhalin contract.

In a country where doctors and teachers are paid kopeks, we sure do love to build. After all, kickbacks from construction projects vary from 30 percent to 70 percent, depending on the region. The lower-key the project, the more liberally funds can be spread around. And in this country, you cannot get much more remote than Sakhalin.

Thus, it's not surprising that support for such an important project as the bridge to Sakhalin has been provided by a broad spectrum of government officials, from the omniscient Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov to the liberal German Gref.

Yulia Latynina is a journalist with ORT.