How state and business interests disperse

Mark Mackinnon, “Russia’s power line: How Bombardier helped build a controversial railroad along Ukraine’s border,” The Globe and Mail, July 30, 2018, (accessed August 1, 2018)

The Globe and Mail reveals to their subscribers how a particular famous Canadian company works in Russia under the project which is perceived by the newspaper as a predominantly military one with clear anti-Ukrainian implications. Thus, Bombardier involvement in the Zhuravka-Millerovo railway line construction, which was launched in 2015 in order to replace the old route running through Ukraine, is under investigation. This 137-km Ukraine Bypass was built to a great extent by the Railway Troops of the Russian Armed Forces. Vocalized in the article by Paul Grod, the head of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress, and Pavel Felgenhauer, a Russian military analyst, this fact becomes a source of evidence for the author that the premiere Russian intention in building this railroad was to provide an easy access to the frontline for the Russian troops if the situation in Eastern Ukraine escalates. In the meantime, Canada’s Bombardier Inc., which got an $8-million contract to install advanced EBI Lock 950 computer based interlocking systems at the final stage of the construction in early 2017, stands upon civic character of the project located, according to the company, inside Russia. In addition, Mark Mackinnon, in his paper, discloses Bombardier’s lobbyism within Canada in favour of their Russian partner Vladimir Yakunin, a former head of the Russian Railways. But for the Canadian company, he could have been added to the country’s sanctions list. Some other Bombardier’s connections with Russian businessmen allegedly involved in bribery in Sweden are broadly questioned.

The amount of truly unique material presented by the author in this short, 1,200-word, text makes it worth reading. The most valuable part is the information gathered from Bombardier representatives who had briefly talked to The Globe and Mail and their internal documentation either obtained by the newspaper or made public by a Swedish court. Otherwise, these business relationships stay confidential.

At the same time, why should it stay so hidden if there is no military undertone in this specific Bombardier contract? Neither the main nor the Russian website of the Canadian company mentions this project in Russia. Only general facts about the Moscow-based Bombardier Transportation (Signal) Ltd as an engineering joint venture with the Russian Railways established in 1996 are outlined. Interestingly enough, operating on 15 railways in 30 Russian regions, the Canadian technology is controlling more than 5,700 points and over 590 km of automatic line-blocks.

Or if the Bypass is not meant for military purposes, why did the troops conduct a part of the construction? Their participation almost automatically defines the conflict zone. And in this case, the explanation by the Bombardier spokesperson stated in the article about bypassing this zone, ensuring a safe transportation of goods and people, sounds valid.

In many ways, the issue is much deeper than the nature of this seven-station railway line. It enjoys equally both sets of reasoning; and the civic one shouldn’t be underestimated because it goes in line with a current Russian policy to bypass Ukraine in many things, e.g. Nord Stream pipelines and Kerch Strait Bridge, to name a few. But it seems that most importantly for Canada is a joint responsibility of their national business to comply with the state policy in their international deals, which is proven by the Foreign Minister’s spokesman’s statement given to the newspaper. And business is less likely to be delighted to follow any restrictive measures driven by politics instead of profit.

Meanwhile, Mackinnon’s paper on the Russian railroad along the Russia-Ukraine border built with the help of Bombardier is a must to immerse in the existing discourse on the effectiveness of the economic sanctions in today’s interconnected world. The question is, who suffers more.

Anna Tsurkan, Ph.D., is the associate fellow at the Centre for studies in religion and society of the University of Victoria, B.C., Canada and the head of the Canada-Russia Research Initiative

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