by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
As someone with a graduate degree in Russian history from Harvard, I took special interest in the post on "The Decentralizing Power of Rivers." It was fascinating, but not for the expected reasons.
Since the 10th century, the historical core of European Russia has been a vast network of interconnecting rivers spilling out in 4 directions: 1.The Don and Dniepr into the Black Sea. 2.The Volga into the Caspian (with a portage to the Don on the lower Volga, now bridged by the 100 kilometer Volga-Don canal) 3. The Western Dvina and the Neva into the Baltic. 4. The Northern Dvina into the Arctic.
The Siberian hinterland is not connected, but then it is to this day more a wilderness for raw materials than a land for settlement. In connecting the major Siberian rivers, the Trans-Siberian Railway created the backbone infrastructure. What is stunning is that Russia was able to rule Siberia without it.
The Russian Transiberian was a bit longer than the US Transcontinental railroad, but there were many less engineering problems passing through mountain ranges. The European Russian rail network seems no more extensive than the US network at its peak. I wonder if Goodrich and Zeihan were aware we had one.
And Russian road-building is absolutely dwarfed by the US road system.
No, this article was interesting because it was another specimen in my collections of "Curious Lies of Russophobes." Western Russophobes have been predicting the collapse of Russia since at least the seventeenth century. Sooner or later someone will be right, of course, but I wouldn't hold my breath.
Russophobia is however interesting as a somehow necessary component of Western political culture, and as such, worthy of study indeed.
Centralization much more likely due to being confronted with invading and marauding enemies, first from the South (Turkic Pechenegs), then the East (Mongols and Tatars), then, starting in the 17th century, from the West (Poles, Swedes, French, Germans, USA), oh and the Turks (again in the 18th and 19th centuries).