The “Meridan” highway connecting China to Europe through Russia, gets green light. It will reach almost 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) long and will run westward from the country’s border with Kazakhstan, creating the shortest route to move goods between mainland Europe and China, Russian
The project will cost an estimated 600 billion rubles — around $9.4 billion and is expected to take around 12-14 years to complete. It is reported that more than 80% of the land needed for the construction of the highway has already been bought.
The privately financed Meridian Highway will run from Russia’s border with Belarus to the frontier with Kazakhstan and will form part of a larger network spanning from Hamburg to Shanghai.
It comes as part of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s ambitious ‘Belt and Road’ initiative which has seen the Far Eastern superpower invest heavily in other nations’ road networks in an apparent bid to dominate global trade. Once constructed, the road will become the shortest route to move goods between Europe and China.
At the western end, the four-lane highway will enter Belarus close to Smolensk, halfway between Moscow and Minsk.
While at the eastern end it will enter near Sagarchin on the Kazakhstani border.
It is the brainchild of Alexander Ryazanov, the former deputy chairman of gas giant Gazprom, who already owns roughly 80 per cent of the land the road is expected to run through.
It is hoped the road will shorten trucking routes between cargo hubs in western China and central Europe and offer a faster alternative to three existing rail corridors – including the Trans-Siberian Railway and the Suez Canal.
Russian politician Dmitry Medvedev is reported to have approved the first phase of the project, according to Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.
It will be funded as part of a partnership between private investors with state support.
Sergei Sanakoyev the head of the Russian-Chinese Analytical Center, told The Moscow Times that he believes the highway is economically justified and can create more jobs and new transit revenue sources for Russia.
‘The question is whether or not Ryazanov has enough financial and administrative resources and the right people,’ he said. ‘I don’t see it now.’
The road will form part of a Western Europe-China Highway, which will stretch around 5,000 miles and ultimately connect the ports of Hamburg and Shanghai.
Under the Russian-backed Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China has invested heavily in 152 countries with a view to recreating the old ‘Silk Road’ between Europe and the Far East.
Xi launched the initiative back in 2013, which has already seen road networks developed across several nations – and is due to be completed as soon as 2043.
Officially, the move has been labelled as ‘a bid to enhance regional connectivity and embrace a brighter future’.
But critics claim it is a cynical push to increase China’s dominance over smaller nations.
In particular, it has drawn scathing criticism from US officials who view it as a means to spread Chinese influence abroad and saddle countries with unsustainable debt through non-transparent projects.
Earlier this year the US refused to send high-level officials to attend China’s second Belt and Road summit in Beijing -citing concerns about the project’s financing.
China hit back by calling those opinions ‘prejudiced, and saying it has never forced debt upon participants and the initiative was to promote joint development.
Russia meanwhile has sought to tether itself to the success of the initiative.
Vladimir Putin visited China for the same summit the US boycotted in April.
Back then, he said that the Chinese initiative will strengthen ‘the constructive cooperation’ of the Eurasian states and will ensure sustainable economic development and economic growth in the region.