Taking the Trans-Siberian to Moscow in 2030

The PS21 Project for the Study of the 21st Century has an interesting little series of thought experiments, short fictionalised narratives imagining aspects of the world in 2030.

I jotted down a quick account of a trip on the new high-speed Trans-Siberian to Moscow, via Zabaikalsk, Novisibirsk and Kazan, for their latest, complete with some general thoughts about Russia’s political evolution (as I’ve speculated before, Putin to kleptocrat to reformer), its economic place in the world, and the rise of the ‘novy gipster’…. It is a rather different Moscow from that in the picture on the left I should add:

The Trans-Siberian Express isn’t just a train, it’s a metaphor. Once, a metaphor for the Tsarist empire’s determination to claim Siberia and the Russian Far East. And now? The double-headed eagle proudly glitters on the bullet-nose of the new, high-speed trains, and the conductors on the Moskovskaya strelka, the ‘Moscow Arrow,’ wear uniforms derived from those of their imperial forebears. But the CRH-49 locomotives are a Chinese design, built in the now Chinese-owned Uralvagonzavod works with a loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, running along a new track built by a Russo-Chinese consortium, and largely by Uighur labourers.

That said, the proud and pricklish days when Moscow thought it could pivot east yet remain the ‘elder brother’ are long gone. When Putin’s stroke delivered power into the laps of kleptocrats who had never had any real enthusiasm for his imperial project, they eagerly looked to rebuild relations in Asia and the West alike. This was just the last hurrah of Russian ‘wild capitalism’—lenders were too canny, opportunities elsewhere were more appealing, and the oligarchs and bureaucrat-entrepreneurs behind President Shuvalov’s figurehead government soon fell to feuding amongst themselves.

Read there rest here.

I’m a great believer in this kind of practical daydreaming; we absolutely may not — probably won’t — get it right, especially not in detail. But it provides us a way of considering the might-bes, the black swans, the surely-nots and the wonder-ifs. Given how unpredictable the future is, either we throw up our hands and stick to reading the newspaper, or else we might as well embrace the fact that we are really in the business of creating the most plausible science fictions we can…

Leave a comment


  1. Very interesting read. But I would have welcomed a more detailed explanation of how, after Putin’s “stroke”, the Siloviki were side-tracked by the kleptocrats. The former didn’t give up in 1991, and it’s unclear why they would give up sincerely-held positions about Russia’s greatness. Not impossible, but might be well to explain how that could come about.

    • Mark Galeotti

       /  February 22, 2016

      This wasn’t essentially a piece about future Russian politics so much as a ‘slice of life’ take – and the word count didn’t allow too much of that sort anyway. But to be honest, I don’t think there are any more siloviki as we used to think of them. Pretty much everyone is an opportunist kleptocrat… The irony is that only Putin and an inner, inner circle – who have already feathered their nests very nicely – are thinking geopolitics whereas most are just thinking cash, perks and influence.


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