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Meeting with Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev and Russian Railways CEO Oleg Belozerov

June 5, 2023, The Kremlin, Moscow

The President had a working meeting with Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev and Russian Railways Chief Executive Officer – Chairman of the Executive Board Oleg Belozerov.

The discussion focused, in particular, on transport accessibility of Russia’s new regions, reconstruction of their infrastructure, including the road and rail network, airports and seaports.

* * *

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: We have agreed that we will discuss transport accessibility of Novorossiya and Donbass today, and later discuss Russian Railways performance.

You have the floor.

Minister of Transport Vitaly Savelyev: Mr President, if I may, I would like to say a few words about the presentation. Certainly, while addressing its tasks, the Ministry prioritises the issue of ensuring transport accessibility of the Republic of Crimea and the four new regions of the Russian Federation.

As you know, on December 5, 2022, you and I re-opened traffic via the Crimean Bridge after the terrorist attack. On February 23, 2023, we re-opened the bridge’s second lane, the left section. I would like to note that the work involved 500 people and 21 pieces of special equipment. In all, we delivered 2,500 metal structures for eight spans.

The reason why I want to enlarge on this issue is because I want to say a few words about the contractors who have accomplished a lot.

We have successfully completed the bridge’s railway section. As you know, on May 5, 2023, we launched traffic via the second track. By July 1 we will complete works to bring the first track we have been working on to standard condition. Both tracks are now open, but we have to make sure that they are up to standard. What is important here? In all, the work involved 170 people and 13 pieces of special equipment; we delivered 524 tonnes of metal structures for two bridge spans, and this is a tremendous effort.

The Crimean Railway, our federal state unitary enterprise, affiliated with the Ministry of Transport, ordered all this work. I cannot help but mention our contractors, Nizhneangarsktransstroy: thanks to its engineering solutions and the company’s specialists who worked three shifts per day, we managed to practically halve the deadlines for production and putting the bridge into full operation.

This is very important because the bridge is a key facility ensuring transport accessibility to Crimea and the new territories. All of us, all Russian citizens see it as a crucial landmark facility, and for this reason it was very important. We have thus fulfilled your instruction.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Vitaly Savelyev: We are also using the alternative route – it is on the left side. You also know it well. You looked at this alternative route. From Rostov-on-Don we will be able to get to Dzhankoi via Mariupol and Melitopol and to Crimea. Our main artery is here – it leads to the new regions and the Republic of Crimea.

The route is 359 km long. Last year, we overhauled 167 km. At the moment this is enough to allow 8,000 vehicles pass every day. Since October 2022, after the terrorist act, more than 130,000 trucks have crossed this route and 46,000 vehicles used it in organised columns under traffic police control.

(Further, the Minister described the checkpoints that no longer have customs but are run by security specialists. Mr Savelyev described, in particular, the work of new domestic x-ray customs inspection portal systems. The first two complexes are being used at the Russia-Kazakhstan border. The crossing capacity has already tripled. A driver simply passes through a special portal, it takes only five minutes, and unlike stationary checkpoints, the driver doesn’t need to leave the vehicle.)

In the next three years we plan to install about 42 such portal systems at border crossings. These are our own domestic development products, and I am very pleased to mention this.

I would like to say a few words about the restoration of transport infrastructure in the new regions of our county – the Lugansk and Donetsk people’s republics and the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions. Last year, we overhauled 594 km of roads and resurfaced 6.5 million square metres of road topping. This year, our target is 761 km. We restored 16 facilities, meaning highway structures, last year and will complete another 26 facilities this year.

We have the money. Last year, we spent 53 billion roubles; this year we have practically 75 billion rubles to spend on works and approximately the same amounts for 2024 and 2025.

Overall, our road network [in the new regions] without Crimea is 21,000 kilometres, including 1,039 kilometres of federal roads that we are taking into Russia’s federal property. Together with the regions we determined the backbone road network, as we used to do in the Russian Federation before. This is approximately 2,500 kilometres both of the federal and regional roads.

By March 1, 2024, we are planning to bring the level of federal roads in normal state up to 85 percent. I think we will reach the goals we planned to achieve in the regions. The quality of the roads is good enough. You can see it in the photos.

Vladimir Putin: Yes, I think I crossed this bridge in Genichesk.

Vitaly Savelyev: Two new seaports were included in the register last year: Mariupol and Berdyansk. We inspected the ports and cleared them of mines. Restoration works are currently underway.

The port of Mariupol has 22 berths, 14 of them are in working condition. We are currently working to raise sunken ships. The port is quite deep: 8 meters. Its current capacity is 3.4 million tonnes, but according to statistics, in 2014 it transhipped 15.5 million tonnes of cargo. So, the port is a serious asset, and we plan to restore it completely.

As for Berdyansk, its current capacity is 1.5 million tonnes; it has nine berths, seven of them operating. In 2014, the average capacity was 3.5 million tonnes.

Nonetheless, these two ports were included in the Russian Federation register, and now there are 63 ports. We are working on these ports, they are now part of our maritime development strategy.

As regards passenger transport, the Ministry of Transport sent various pieces of equipment last year. We delivered 1,606 pieces of special equipment, carrier vehicles and other equipment to the regions: 394 buses, 461 school buses, 351 pieces of road-building machinery, 371 cars and special vehicles for law enforcement agencies. The regions also received 30 main-line locomotives and car movers.

We have recently launched procedures to create a federal state unitary enterprise in the new regions as regards railways. We will pay special attention to social issues here. We will make an offer to all railway workers to join the new federal state unitary enterprise which we will create in the new territories within the quarter.

Overall this year, we will transfer 434 pieces of machinery, 300 buses, 10 pieces of road-building machinery, 23 locomotives and 11 trains for suburban service. Overall, we are fulfilling the goals to provide equipment.

In conclusion, I can say that five airports – Mariupol, Donetsk, Lugansk, Kherson and Zaporozhye – are now also part of our common development programmes. When the opportunity arises, we will start with Mariupol. We are currently working on design specifications and estimates. We believe that if circumstances permit, we will be able to use this airport in 2024–2025. The other airports are damaged, and they will be put into service later in stages.

Overall, we are fulfilling the objectives of ensuring transport accessibility. We work together with the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Construction, Housing and Utilities and the Ministry of Energy.

I believe we will reach all the goals you set on ensuring transport accessibility; they are among our priorities.

Vladimir Putin: Is the depth of berths in Mariupol about 8 metres?

Vitaly Savelyev: Yes, 5 to 8 metres, depending on the berth. It is 8 metres for all berths in Mariupol and a little less – from 5 to 8 metres – in Berdyansk. This is enough, deep enough.

Vladimir Putin: So, large ships can dock there?

Vitaly Savelyev: Yes, they can.

Vladimir Putin: This broadens our opportunities.

Vitaly Savelyev: Yes.

Vladimir Putin: Mr Belozerov, go ahead please.

CEO – Chairman of the Executive Board of Russian Railways Oleg Belozerov: Mr President, to begin with I would like to thank you for your constant attention to railway transport. This year, we are working under unusual conditions, and our results are related to the continuous growth of our operations. You mentioned several times that the economy is seeing this, and the railway figures are certainly making this obvious.

Operations are going well since the start of the year. The growth – the combination of shipping volume and passenger traffic – is over 3.3 percent. This is an absolute record in the entire history of Russian Railways. We are developing and setting a goal to improve all parameters, and we have not forgotten your instructions on raising labour productivity.

Vladimir Putin: It is 3.5 percent already.

Oleg Belozerov: Yes, our growth is 3.5 percent.

Our exports are on the rise, Mr President. Last year, we set a record for container shipments – we transported 6.5 million containers. We plan an interesting figure for ourselves to reach – to transport 7 million containers this year.

Following your instructions, we are paying special attention to the East. Our general shipments are 96.7 million or plus 8 percent. That said, the Eastern Operating Domain accounts for exports of more than 50 million tonnes according to the control section.

I would like to mention separately the serious monthly growth in shipments with China in the last few months. The restrictions were lifted, and after you signed documents with President Xi Jinping, we saw growth of 84 percent at the ports and border crossings. We had plus 45 percent at the border crossings. The Ministry of Transport is carrying out enormous work on the checkpoints. This allows us to work round the clock and organise additional events. Hence, we are making progress on the eastern track.

The Azov-Black Sea Basin – we also have growth of 3.3 percent in loading. This is a very heavy balance. Mr President, you asked us to increase transportation of passengers, including to Crimea, and we did – by almost 30 percent in passenger traffic and managed to add a bit on the freight side.

We completed the reconstruction of the Tikhoretsky railway junction – it is towards the Azov-Black Sea Basin but it allowed us to more fully use the North-South transport corridor. In fact, this corridor saw a 54 percent increase over the past year.

There are very interesting statistics on shipments with friendly versus unfriendly countries. The former recorded a 68 percent increase and the latter a 62 percent decline.

Vladimir Putin: Look, how can the North-South Corridor record this kind of growth? We do not yet have the Iranian section of the route, right?

Oleg Belozerov: Mr President, the growth comes from all directions – the western, central and eastern lines. If there is a connection, we go through Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan and reach Iran. The central line, including ferries, is busy in this respect. The Ministry of Transport is working hard on this.

Intermodal transport has also grown. And we can ride the train, then change to auto transport and keep going as well. In other words, the corridor is in demand, it is working.

Vladimir Putin: I see.

Oleg Belozerov: And, probably, the most important thing, Mr President…

Vladimir Putin: Investment.

Oleg Belozerov: Yes, thank you very much for your support on investment. We are carrying cargo with great strain. We have almost reached the limit and will not be able to carry more without further development. A record programme worth 1.1 trillion roubles is planned; almost 500 billion is being invested in this development.

Today, the number of workers at Russian Railways construction sites is almost 40,000, including 18,700 on the Eastern Operating Domain. This exceeds the number we had last summer. And the number of summer workers will increase to 61,000 people.

Mr President, now I would like to turn to the 50th anniversary of the Baikal-Amur Railway (BAM), given your Executive Order on celebrating this event. The BAM is a part of the Eastern Operating Domain. The decision to build this line was made on July 8, 1974. The work on it was fully underway in 1975 and it peaked in 1984 when the growth in cargo volume reached 28 million tonnes.

The development initiative for the Eastern Operating Domain was adopted in the autumn of 2014 under your instructions. A peak was reached in 2015, and we will fulfil your instructions on capacity in 2024, on the 50th anniversary. We will increase this by over 80 million.

Mr President, the Russian Railways team will fulfil all your instructions on time – both this and next year.

Vladimir Putin: Well done. My congratulations – such a good indicator for the economy in general.

Oleg Belozerov: Thank you very much.

Vladimir Putin: As for investment, it is important to follow the schedule to make sure that railway infrastructure – transport in this case – does not hold economic development back. We have already reached the limit in many respects.

Vitaly Savelyev: It is already at its potential. It is using almost all of its capacity – it needs further development. If he does not invest…

Oleg Belozerov: You are supporting us, and this is why we can show this permanent growth.

Vladimir Putin: Thank you.

Oleg Belozerov: Thank you very much.

June 5, 2023, The Kremlin, Moscow