Putin inaugurates Moscow's new $6.6bn metro line

Putin inaugurates Moscow's new $6.6bn metro line
"Voksal" on Moscow metro, where a new line, The Big Circle, was opened on March 2. / bne IntelliNews
By bne IntelliNews March 1, 2023

Russian President Vladimir Putin has officially opened the Moscow metro's Big Circle Line, which he described as the “largest underground ring in the world”.

The Big Circle Line, a mammoth infrastructure project with a price tag of RUB501bn ($6.66bn), comprises 31 stations and extends a distance of 70km. The government has touted the line as a much-needed solution to the city's traffic woes, with the added benefit of easing congestion on existing metro lines. It is expected to transport 3.3mn people daily.

However, despite being a monumental success for the Metro, the president opted not to physically attend the opening ceremony, instead appearing via video link. This decision sparked speculation that Putin’s reluctance to attend in person may be rooted in concerns for his personal safety, either due to the potential threat from angry citizens or a lingering fear of COVID-19.

The completion of the new metro line in Moscow serves as a powerful symbol of President Putin's vision of normality, despite a bloody war that has claimed the lives of scores of young men and a barrage of sanctions from over 40 countries aimed at crippling Russia's economy. While the line promises economic benefits for the city, its unveiling is a crucial public relations move that bolsters Putin's popularity by projecting an image of progress and growth. This comes at a critical moment when soaring food prices and the departure of cherished Western brands have left many Russians feeling the pinch.

The image of Putin's smiling face beaming from a TV screen, opposite gathered workers responsible for building the project, also stands in stark contrast to the numerous photographs of Kyivans who have used their city’s underground system to shelter from a relentless barrage of Russian missiles and rockets for over a year.

The line, one of the country’s largest infrastructure projects in decades, comes as Moscow continues to fund mega-projects despite the shift towards a war-focused economy. With Moscow eyeing dependable trade partners in Asia, the lion's share of Russia's domestic projects are now concentrated in the Far East, especially with eastward rail and pipeline capacities already stretched to their limits. Faced with these challenges, Russia has abandoned its earlier plan for a Northern Latitudinal Railway and instead turned to the Eastern Polygon Project, which aims to bolster the Trans-Siberian Railway's carrying capacity.

During his annual State of the Nation address to both chambers of Parliament on February 21, Putin underscored the country's infrastructure objectives, specifically highlighting plans to improve rail and road connections with foreign countries.

“A decision has already been made to extend the Moscow-Kazan expressway to Yekaterinburg, Chelyabinsk and Tyumen, and eventually to Irkutsk and Vladivostok with branches to Kazakhstan, Mongolia and China. This will, in part, allows us to considerably expand our ties with Southeast Asian markets,” he said.