River of Peace
Rivers are like the bones making up the skeletons of myriad civilizations, and serving as natural borders between peoples for centuries. Simply put, rivers have long acted as a people’s last line of defense, putting off would-be aggressors from trying to conquer both a flowing body of water and an enemy force on the other side simultaneously. Fortunately, we live in an era where rivers, and more precisely the bridges built over them, serve more often as points of trade and connection between partners, rather than dividing foe from foe.
Russia has been actively trading with China for some time, but how this is carried out is perhaps not entirely clear to all. Indeed, it might be difficult for most to imagine that between these two giant nations there was, until very recently, not a single highway bridge.
In a potentially historic development, successful tests were carried out of a highway bridge connecting Russia and China across the Amur River, built by Russian businessman Ruslan Baysarov’s SK Most Group of Companies. In a rigorous process, all types of vehicular transport were tested successfully on the bridge, paving the way for traffic to start crossing the historic bridge as soon as April 2020.
The bridge has two different names, depending on which side of the border one stands – Amur (Russia) and Heilongjiang (China).
Even Flooding Could Not Deter the Workers
In terms of the bridge’s construction, it took a while for the parties to shift through the gears. The agreement on the construction of the bridge was concluded back in 1995, but little tangible progress was made for the following 20 years. Eventually, work on both banks began in December 2016, and by May 2019, Russian and Chinese workers met in the middle of the river. This Russian-Chinese collaboration brought a real and impressive result.
Baysarov’s specialists built the bridge using extradosed structures, which is a very popular technological approach in East Asia. As depicted in the photo below, from a distance such bridges appear very similar to the cable-stayed variety. However, the load on the structural elements of these two types of bridge is distributed differently, with horizontal stress on extradosed bridges and vertical stress on cable-stayed bridges. The former are more durable. So the Amur River Bridge is destined to serve as an historic and vital transport link for many generations. Indeed, it is hoped, if not expected, that within a decade or two there will be a demand for a second bridge to ease the traffic on the first. If such a prediction materializes, it is entirely possible that it would again be built by the SK Most Group of Companies, given not only its key role in the construction of the Amur River highway bridge, but also its concurrent experience of building a railway bridge across the Amur linking Nizhneleninskoye in Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Oblast with Tongjiang in China’s Heilongjiang Province.
Baysarov, who has been managing the SK Most Group of Companies since 2016, spoke about the difficulties faced by workers in the construction process:
“The Amur is one of the most unpredictable rivers. The platforms from which the bridge piers were erected were flooded in the summer of 2018. Specialists had to erect an additional contour of sheet piling which later made it possible to carry out work in the winter.”
Crucially, not a ruble of Russian taxpayers’ money has been set aside for this historic project, as the road bridge’s construction is to be covered by the collection of toll fees. As alluded to above, a railway crossing is expected to follow in due course.
The simplification of connections, and therefore relations, with China is widely expected to have a significant impact on the economy of the Amur Region, an extremely important region for Russia that links Transbaikalia to the west with Khabarovsk and Primorye to the east. The access road to the bridge is the best in the entire Amur Region, and Russia is confident it has plenty worth presenting to visitors from China. Primarily, agriculture is well developed on the Russian side of the Amur (the biggest supplier of soybeans among Russian regions), while the university in Blagoveshchensk is already very popular among the Chinese students. In addition, several substantial hydroelectric power stations operate on the Amur River, and the Power of Siberia gas pipeline also passes through the region. Meanwhile, at a social level, citizens of China and Russia have increasingly been entering into mixed marriages, and for many such couples and their families the bridge built over the Amur by Baysarov’s SK Most Group of Companies is a development of huge personal significance and convenience.
From a broader perspective, Russia has vowed to double its trade with China by 2024, a goal that could not be achieved without the construction of road and railway bridges across the Amur River connecting both countries. Trade between Russian and China currently amounts to approximately US$100 billion annually, but according to the aforementioned 2024 goal this will have to rise to US$200 billion (about 10% of Russia’s GDP). Soy plays an important role in this trade relationship, and plans are afoot for a fourfold increase in Russia’s export of soybeans to China within four years, eventually reaching a volume of 3.7 million tons per year. Such ambitious trade targets will serve as a strong impetus for the development of the Amur region where the population is expected to rise notably in coming years.
Projects in Russia
Under Baysarov’s management, the SK Most Group of Companies, which already held a strong position in the market, has flourished further still, becoming a market leader in Russian construction and launching projects abroad as well.
Other notable projects being carried out by the SK Most Group of Companies:
- Widening of the railway gauge on the island of Sakhalin
- Construction of the new Moscow metro lines
- Tunneling on the Baikal–Amur main line
- Construction of a railway viaduct in Serbia
- Construction of the first-ever railway in Tuva
These impressive projects represent only a small but very significant part of the Group’s activities.
Ruslan Baysarov, who was born in August 1968 in the village of Prigorodnoye, in the then Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, was not engaged whatsoever in construction in the first 40 years of his life. The entrepreneur first tried his hand at the entertainment industry, before delving into the oil business. It was only at the beginning of the 2010s that his attention was drawn to construction projects. Initially, Baysarov took an interest in Tyva, rich in minerals and practically isolated from the rest of Russia, and from where products had to be transported via inadequate roads. With the region’s infrastructural shortcomings in mind, Baysarov embarked on the construction of the Kyzyl-Kuragino railway line and became involved in other aspects of the construction of infrastructure. From working on relatively small projects, he then invested in the SK Most Group of Companies, eventually becoming its majority shareholder in 2015.
Given the vast size of the country, efficient infrastructure projects like those pursued by Baysarov are imperative if Russia is to develop its economy as quickly as its people desire.