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Soviet Union

Development of Waterways

Following the Bolshevik Revolution, the new regime decided first on reconstruction and then on expansion and modernization of the inland waterway system. The plan encompassed opening to navigation, or expanding navigation on, major rivers, particularly in the Asian part of the Soviet Union, and included new infrastructure ashore.

In the 1930s, two major canals were constructed: one connecting the Baltic and White seas, 227 kilometers long, with nineteen locks; the other connecting Moscow to the Volga River, 128 kilometers long (see fig. 20). Both were built using prisoners, the first at a cost of about 225,000 lives. By 1940 about 108,900 kilometers of river and 4,200 kilometers of man-made waterways were in operation, which allowed movement of 73.9 million tons originated of freight. During World War II, most of the inland fleet was converted to landing craft for river-crossing operations. As a result of hostilities, inland navigation suffered losses in vessels, canals, and shore installations.

The Fourth Five-Year Plan provided for the restoration of navigation on major waterways in the European part of the Soviet Union after World War II. It included repair of the fleet, construction of new vessels, and rebuilding and expansion of port installations. In the 1950s, construction of the 101-kilometer canal connecting the Volga and Don rivers, also built using prisoners, brought all the major inland river ports within the reach of the Black, Baltic, Caspian, Azov, and White seas. The navigable length of the inland waterway network reached its peak of 144,500 kilometers in 1970. Thereafter, it began to decline as, on the one hand, distance-cutting reservoirs and canals were opened to navigation and, on the other hand, navigation was discontinued on rivers with a low traffic density. Thus by 1987 the length of inland waterways under navigation was reduced to 122,500 kilometers, exclusive of the Caspian Sea. Navigational channels were deepened, and canals and locks were widened. New waterways, including tributaries of major rivers, were developed in Siberia and the Far East. As part of that process, the ports of Omsk and Novosibirsk were expanded, and new ports were built at Tomsk, Surgut, and Tobol'sk. Equipment capable of handling twenty-ton containers was installed at Krasnoyarsk, Osetrovsk, and ports in the Yakutiya region. The most heavily navigated sections of Siberia's Ob', Irtysh, Yenisey, and Lena rivers were deepened to the "minimum guaranteed depth" of three meters.

Further development of navigation on smaller rivers in the Far East was begun in the early 1980s, and navigation increased on other waterways serving industrialized areas. By 1985 the Volga and Kama river locks had reached their traffic limits and required widening. To respond to increased demand and to replace obsolete vessels, 1,020 dry bulk and oil barges, 247 passenger vessels, and 945 pusher tugs, freighters, and tankers were put into service between 1981 and 1985.

Data as of May 1989