Russian President Vladimir Putin has made economic promises to the Russian people, and he means to keep them, even if it means bringing back the system of gulag camps for prison labor. Russia has experienced a dearth of migrant labor during the pandemic, so the Kremlin has to look at other means to finish large infrastructure projects.
The ongoing ‘Sovietization’ of the Russian economy is not just reflected in price caps on food. This week the government — which is struggling with a chronic labor shortage due to border closures — revealed it is looking to bring back Soviet-era gulag prison camps to provide the manpower for large-scale infrastructure developments. The first project to use convict labor is set to be one of the most notorious slave labor projects from the Stalin-era: the Baikal-Amur Railroad (BAM) in the Far East, wrote Russian independent news outlet, The Bell.
The government needs prisoners to take up the slack after thousands of migrant workers from Central Asia headed home during the pandemic. Construction Minister Irek Fayzullin has said he needs another 600,000 workers and is concerned there will not be enough labor available for a post-pandemic building boom.
The first project chosen for convict labor is rich in unintended symbolism. BAM runs thousands of kilometres over permafrost and was planned as an alternative to the Trans-Siberian railroad in case of conflict on the Chinese border. The first attempt to lay tracks in the 1930s became one of the biggest projects tackled by Stalin’s gulag prison camp system. In 1938 alone, there were 250,000 convicts working on the line and official figures show that 40,000 died of starvation and illness in the space of five years. Even so, the railroad was not finished until several decades later and after Stalin’s death, when the final kilometers were laid by contracted workers.
The illegitimate Biden administration is helping Moscow however, with its purposeful destruction of American energy dominance, created under President Trump. This keeps oil and gas prices high and fills the Kremlin’s coffers, which still gets upwards of 50% of annual revenue from the sale of hydrocarbons.
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