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Volga-Don Shipping Canal

Volga-Don Ship Canal [Volgo-Donskoy Imeni Vladimira Illicha Lenina, or Volgo-Donskoy Sudokhodny Kanal] Volga-Don canal is a part of the United Deep-Water System of Waterways. This canal connects the Volga and the Don and reduced twofold distances between ports of northern and southern seas of the European part of Russia in comparison with the earlier existing way round Europe. The Volga-Don Canal crowned the joining of the five seas: the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, the White Sea, the Sea of Azov and the Caspian Sea; it connected river ways and crossed the arid steppes. The Volga-Don Canal is important to the area because it allows waterborne shipping from the Volga River to the Don River, through the Sea of Azov, and into the Black Sea. The main European waterway is the Volga-Don system, which connects the major river ports of Nizhniy Novgorod, Kazan', Samara, Saratov, Volgograd, Astrakhan', and Rostov with the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea and leads northward via canals to link with the Baltic Sea at St. Petersburg. The system links the Don and Volga rivers by the 60-kilometer Volga-Don Canal. Expansion of commerce on inland waterways has been hindered by shallow water and weather conditions. The Volga-Don Canal is closed for several months in winter.

Peter the Great attached much importance to effecting a junction of the Black and the Caspian Seas. The distance between these two maritime highways is about 400 miles, and the enormous trade that was developed in petroleum at Baku in the late 19th Century, on the Caspian Sea, would have created a traffic for such a waterway that was never dreamt of in the time of that Czar. The Iwanoff Canal was begun by Peter in 1700 for the purpose of uniting the Don by means of Lake Iwan, with the river Shat, which passes through the Upa into the Oka. The canal had been carried from the Don into the valley of the Bobrucki, towards Cape Iwan, and twenty-four sluices had been completed, when the work was suddenly stopped, most probably because the means were insufficient for its completion; but early in the 19th Century the completion of the canal was ordered by the Government. In 1716, Peter commenced the Kamiishinski Canal, designed to unite the Don and the Volga, and thereby to connect the Black and the Caspian Seas. Like the Iwanoff Canal, this undertaking had been partially finished when it had to be discontinued, apparently for engineering as well as for financial reasons, nor was it until 1796 that its construction was again resumed.

Stalin subsequently used Gulag labor to realize the centuries-old dream. Stalin used German POW's, as well as Russian citizens to work on this project, but he never got to see it's completion. The complicated hydraulic engineering of the Volga-Don canal was constructed in 1949-1952 rapidly - for 3 years and 6 months. Stalin died in 1952, and the Volga-Don Canal was opened in 1953. Its completion inspired Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev's "The Meeting of the Volga and Don" tone poem.

The Volga boatmen, struggling to pull heavy barges against raging rapids, are no more. The Volga River drains much of western Russia's industrial region as it travels southward to empty into the Caspian Sea. The Volga River is Europe's longest river, flowing some 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) from its source in the Valday hills of northwest Russia to the Caspian Sea. As it winds its way through Russia, it passes through several large cities, and it is lined with agriculture. Within its basin lives nearly 25 percent of the total population of the USSR, and the river and its tributaries carry about two-thirds of all the riverborne freight in the country. The Volga River has a low gradient, and thus is a relatively-moving river. Most of the river and many of its hundreds of tributaries are navigable, and it is an important transportation route in the area. Over thousands of years, the river has built a tremendous delta that forms the northwestern shoreline of the Caspian Sea. The delta channels provide transportation between the heartland of Russia and the oil-rich Caspian Sea.

The level of the Caspian Sea has been fluctuating significantly, and in the last 150 years, water level has fluctuated over 6 meters; during the period 1930 to 1963, water level dropped 2.6 meters. Since 1978, the Caspian Sea level has risen over 2 meters (a little over 6 feet), submerging wetland habitats, flooding coastlines, agricultural land, and industrial infrastructure.

The Don River is the fourth-longest river in Europe. Its basin covers an area of 425,600 km2 (87% in Russia and 13% in Ukraine). The Don's largest tributary is the Donets. Other important tributaries are the Voronezh, Khoper, and Medveditsa. The source of the river is in Russia, southeast of Moscow near Tula. It then flows for a distance of about 1,950 km, through Voronej, crossing Rostov and entering the Gulf of Taganrog in the Sea of Azov. Although most of the River is navigable, the water level is very low in August, and the River is usually closed by ice from November or December to March or April. In this relatively dry area of southern Russia the Volga-Don Canal has limited water storage capacity. Hence, water has to be pumped at great expense from the Don River to provide water to operate the locks.

The Volga-Don waterways are part of Russia's larger, 100,000-kilometer network of inland waterways. In European Russia, this system not only links the Black and Caspian seas with each other, but with the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, and the Arctic Ocean. The volume of cargo moving on Russia's inland waterways has fallen dramatically in recent years, from more than 300 million tons in 1992 to 98.8 million tons in 1996. By the year 2000, the ports and inland waterways that link the Black and the Caspian seas operated at only a fraction of capacity, in stark contrast to heavily congested Novorossiisk, Russia's main Black Sea port.

The western anchor of the Volga-Don system is the port of Rostov, located near the mouth of the Don River, and the nearby ports of Azov and Taganrog. Roughly 350 kilometers upstream from Rostov lies the Volga-Don Canal, a 60 kilometer-long waterway which links the Don and Volga rivers. The canal joins the Volga near Volgograd, itself a major inland port. The eastern anchor is the port of Astrakhan, 400 kilometers downstream from Volgograd, near where the Volga enters the Caspian.

Weather and shallow water impose limitations. Winters are harsh as a result of the region's cold, continental climate. The Volga-Don Canal closes to commercial traffic around the first of November and does not reopen until April. While service is available downstream from Volgograd to Astrakhan, the river upstream closes to navigation for the winter, as well. The shallow channel depths neccisitates the use of smaller vessels, typically the 5,000-ton "river/sea" type, when shipping via the Volga-Don ports. The overall dimensions of the canal locks are smaller than of those on the Volga River. The plan dimensions of locks on the lower Don and the Volga-Don canal are 145 m x 17-18 m and, on the Volga, 290 m x 30 m. There are depth limitations on the lower Don between the town of Kalach and the town of Azov, because of the reduced depth at the sill of Kochetov lock (3.6 meters), and also on the Volga, over the sector Gorodets-Nizhny Novgorod, because of the insufficient depth (3.5 meters) in the lower pond of Gorodets lock.

This potentially important and generally overlooked transportation corridor offers important opportunities as a new route for heavy equipment being shipped to the Caspian Sea, for investment in transportation infrastructure, and in sales of cargo-handling equipment and technology. Decaying infrastructure and restricted access to foreign shippers have limited international use of the Volga-Don waterways, but changes in Russian transport regulations and the privatization of the region's port facilities were making them better able to compete for foreign customers and investors.

Passage on the internal waters of Russia under a foreign flag is forbidden. Article 5 of the Russian Inland Waterways Act passed by Stalin in 1936 prevents all foreign vessels from using inland waterways. Moscow imposed specific restrictions in 1994 on foreign vessels sailing the Volga-Don Canal.

Transport and communications obstructions and stoppages have severely affected economic development in the South Caucasus. Since 1989, Azerbaijan has obstructed railways and pipelines traversing its territory to Armenia. Russia hinders Azerbaijan's use of the Volga-Don Canal to reach world shipping channels. The cost of the passage of one Azerbaijani vessel to the internal waters of Russia amounts to $20,000-$25,000. However, Russian vessels pay $5,000-$6,000 for the same movement.

Meeting in Baku on 28 August 2002 with Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliev, Turkish Minister for Navigation Ramazan Mirzaoglu a regime of unrestricted access to the Volga-Don Canal. Mirzaoglu said that if Turkey had unrestricted access to the Volga-Don Canal, it could transport 2 million tons of Kazakh grain annually to international markets, together with cotton, metals, and other products from the Central Asian states. Aliev expressed his support for the Turkish initiative.

The Republic of Tatarstan is situated on the East-European plain, at the juncture of two of Russia's longest rivers, the Volga and the Kama. Kazan, the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, is located 800 kilometers to the east of Moscow. The Republic of Tatarstan has a rich historical and cultural heritage. There are three broad cultural groups in the Republic, the Turkic, Slavic and Finno-Ugric, and two religious traditions, Islam and Orthodox Christianity. Although the Tatarstan Republic is geographically surrounded by the Russian Federation, Tatarstan is situated on important supply routes, such as the Volga River. Tatarstan has gained sea access through an agreement with the Ukrainian region Crimea. Tatarstan's oil can reach the ports by barge traveling down the Volga River to the Volga-Don canal, through the canal into tile Azov Sea, and from there into the Black Sea. This also opens new trading partners to Tatarstan. Tatarstan also has direct access to the Caspian Sea by barge routes on the Volga River.

On 20 September 2003, the former US Coast Guard Cutter Point Brower was officially dedicated in Azerbaijan. The Point Brower - renamed S-201 - was the third patrol boat of its type that the US government had given Azerbaijan. Two smaller US Coast Guard cutters were given to Azerbaijan in 2000. The ship's long journey began in San Francisco, California and continued as the Maritime Brigade crew piloted the vessel across the Black Sea and Sea of Azov, through the Volga Don canal to the Caspian Sea, and finally to Baku. The 27-meter patrol boat Point Brower primary missions were law enforcement and search and rescue. The cutter had been refurbished and retrofitted several times, most recently in preparation for its transfer to Azerbaijan.

President Vladimir Putin, in his state-of-the-nation address in April 2007, proposed that "the Government also examine the establishment of an international consortium to build a second section of the Volga-Don canal. This new transport artery would have a significant impact on improving shipping links between the Caspian and the Black Seas. Not only would this give the Caspian Sea countries a route to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean, thus providing them with access to the world's oceans, it would also radically change their geopolitical situation by enabling them to become sea powers. I have already held preliminary talks on this issue with my colleagues from the countries bordering the Caspian."

The Ministry of Transport of Russia addressed to the transport ministries of the countries of Near-Caspian basin with the invitation to take part in building and operation of the second branch of the Volga-Don canal. Igor Levitin, RF Transport Minister informed about it during his working trip to Volgograd on 27 July 2007, when the 55th anniversary of the Volga-Don Canal was celebrated.

On 10 June 2007 Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev proposed an alternative "Eurasia Canal" connecting the Caspian and Black Seas. Nazarbayev proposes building an almost straight canal utilizing Soviet-era navigable reservoirs across Russia's North Caucasus. The alternative Eurasia Canal could potentially carry up to 45 million tons annually. The canal is intended to be constructed from the Caspian Sea to the influx of the Don River via the Kumo-Manich pit. The canal would be 650km in length, 80m in width, 6.5m in depth and the number of gateways will total six. The canal is envisaged for the passage of the vessels of "river-sea" class with a capacity of 3,500-5,500t with the future use of vessels of a new class with a capacity of up to 10,000t.




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