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Soviet Union

Chapter 14. Transportation and Communications

THE TRANSPORTATION AND COMMUNICATIONS systems of the Soviet Union were owned and operated by the government primarily to serve the economic needs of the country as determined by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). In addition to being influenced by the policies of the regime, the development of transportation and communications also has been greatly influenced by the country's vast size, geography, climate, population distribution, and location of industries and natural resources. Although the population and industrial centers were concentrated in the European part of the country, which has a more moderate climate, many of the mineral and energy resources were in sparsely inhabited, climatically inhospitable expanses of Siberia and other remote areas. Hence, the transportation and communications networks were much denser in the European part than in the Asian part of the country.

In 1989, and historically, railroads were the premier mode of transportation in the Soviet Union. Railroads played significant roles in times of war, and they accelerated industrial development. They also facilitated the normal flow of raw materials, manufactured goods, and passengers. Government policies provided for extensive trackage and large numbers of locomotives, rolling stock, and support facilities. Although railroads carried more freight and passengers over long distances, trucks and buses carried more cargo and people on short hauls. Because automotive transport was not generally used for long hauls, many roads outside of urban areas had gravel or dirt surfaces. The lack of paved roads in rural areas seriously hampered the movement of agricultural products and supplies. Privately owned automobiles, on a per capita basis, were few in number compared with those in the West and therefore were of limited importance in transportation.

Inland waterways, comprising navigable rivers, lakes, and canals, enabled a wide variety of ships, barges, and other craft to transport passengers and freight to their destinations inexpensively. Commuters in urban areas often used hydrofoils on rivers for rapid transport, while freight moved on the waterways more slowly over much greater distances. Waterways were subject to freezing in winter, although a fleet of ice breakers extended the navigable season. Most rivers in the Asian part of the country flow northward into the Arctic Ocean and thus were of little help in moving raw materials to the European part of the country. At some river ports in Siberia, raw materials were loaded onto ships for delivery to domestic and foreign ports via the Arctic to the Pacific or the Atlantic oceans.

A large, modern, and well-diversified fleet of merchant and passenger vessels conveyed not only freight and passengers to the world's maritime nations but also Soviet political influence. Many cargo vessels, often highly specialized, were designed to off-load freight and vehicles in foreign countries not having modern port facilities. Although the world's largest fleet of passenger liners belonged to the Soviet Union, the voyagers were mainly Western tourists. Extensive fishing and scientific research fleets, together with several international ferry systems, added to the already substantial worldwide maritime presence of the Soviet Union.

The civilian air fleet was primarily a fast transporter of people but was often the only mode of transport available to some areas in the Far North, Siberia, and the Soviet Far East. Using the international airports of Moscow and other major cities, Soviet airplanes flew to almost every country of the world. The air fleet also had many specialized aircraft performing various missions not associated with airlines in the West, such as agricultural spraying, medical evacuations, and energy exploration.

As a means of efficiently conveying oil, natural gas, and some other materials, pipelines played a significant part in the transportation system. Major pipelines stretched from northern and Siberian oil and gas fields to refineries and industrial users in the European part of the country. Pipelines supplied energy to Eastern Europe, which was heavily dependent on Soviet gas and oil, and to Western Europe, which exchanged hard currency (see Glossary) for Soviet natural gas.

Using a communications system that incorporated advanced satellite technologies, the government transmitted its radio and television programming throughout most of the Soviet Union. Telephones were mainly used by government or party officials or others having official responsibilities in the economy.

Data as of May 1989


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