Russian Defense Minister volunteers soldier labor to build railway line to China

Desperate to find contractors for its major construction projects, the Russian government has even turned to the army.

At the sidelines of the Krasnoyarsk Economic Forum, Sholban Kara-ool, Chairman of the Tuva Republic (a Federal subject of Russia), told the Russian news agency RBC that the Kyzyl – Kuragino – China railway line will be built by soldiers.

For Tuva, the poorest region of Russia, where the GDP per capita is only half the national average, the railway line will become the first in the republic’s history, and will unite it with the Russian Railways network.

The second stage of the 200 billion ruble ($3 billion) project will involve laying a railway line to Mongolia and China. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu personally suggested using the armed forces as labor for the construction. This will make it possible to start construction this year, and to complete the first stage within 3-5 years.

Prisoner labor could also be used for the project. Russian railways was the first state company to formally request convict labor after a law passed in 2017 stipulated that persons sentenced to correctional labor would be sent to work at state company sites, even in remote locations.

A railway line that would make it possible to develop the coal deposits in Tuva has been a topic of discussion for more than 15 years.

In 2002, the Yenisei Development Company, which belongs to former Russian senator and banker Sergey Pugachev, acquired a license to mine coal in the Tuva region. At the time, it was planned that the state would take on part of the expenses for the line, and the corresponding tender was awarded to billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov’s Summa Group.

However, Pugachev’s company failed to stick to the schedule, was cut off from state funding, and ultimately had to declare bankruptcy.

In 2013, the mining license was resold to Ruslan Baysarov’s Tuvan Energy Industrial Corporation. At the time, he undertook to build a railway line to the site, and claimed that the company had already invested around 1 billion rubles in the project.

However, the construction of the line has been postponed on multiple occasions, and has not been started even in 2019.

  Russia, Shoygu, China, Russian Defense Ministry