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Throughout its history, Russia has always been the crossroads of river trade routes. They still form the unique advantage as the length of the inland waterways in this country exceeds 100 000 kilometers. These “blood vessels” are capable of connecting enterprises, regions
and industries in a common system, thus making the economy stronger 

The potential for cargo transportation via inland waterways is huge. Currently their share in Russia’s cargo turnover is less than 3 percent. The global experience proves that this figure may be increased considerably. For a comprehensive discussion of the most important aspects of the development of river traffic,
the United Shipbuilding Corporation, jointly with the Russian Historical Society, has announced a series of round tables devoted to the prospects and current aspects of the development of inland waterways.
The first round of discussion on the topic “Waterways in the History of Russia and World Politics” took place at the Tver En Route Imperial Palace in February.

The event was attended by USC’s Vice President Dzhakhan Pollyeva, Executive Director of the “History of Motherland” Fund Konstantin Mogilevskiy, Dmitry Efremov, a head of the archive section of the Tver Region, Tatiana Kuyukina, director of the A.M.Gorky Tver Regional Universal Library, Svetlana Maldova, a member of the council of the Tver branch of the Russian Historical Society, Acting President of the Tver State University Liudmila Skakovskaya, Sergey Spirodonov, chairman of the council of the Association of Tver Fellowships, Olga Podshuveit, director of the Saint Petersburg branch of the World Ocean Museum – “Ice-Breaker “Krasin”, Yevgenia Pyadysheva, executive secretary of the “International Life” journal and others. 

It was not a coincidence that Tver was chosen as a “source” for the new series of round tables. The great Russian river “Volga” originates in the Tver Region, and the city itself used to be the starting point for many outstanding Russian travelers and discoverers in olden days. The famous Northern expedition of Vitus Bering started from Tver, Empress Catherine the Great began her “Volga voyage” here. From here, more than 550 years ago, in 1468, Afanasy Nikitin, a merchant from Tver, set off on a journey, and three years later, he became the first European traveller who reached the shores of India.

Speaking to the audience, Tatiana Leontieva, the chairman of the council of the Tver branch of the Russian Historical Society and dean of the Faculty of History of the Tver State University, highlighted the objectives of the round table discussions. Education was called the main objective, outlined by the organizers. “We hope that everyone who joins our project will focus on popularizing the cultural and historical heritage of the Russian cities and towns, located along the banks of large and small rivers,” said she. In addition, Tatiana Leontieva noted the system-forming role of historical experience in shaping the development program for inland waterways. “Our task is to recall how this process of river trade routes operation was functioning earlier,” she added.

The follow-up discussions were focused on the exchange of opinions on the importance of Afanasy Nikitin’s “journey beyond three seas”. Executive Director of the “History of Motherland” Fund Konstantin Mogilevskiy informed that this autumn India would host celebrations, dedicated to the anniversary of that journey. “The Indian side is planning to give the name of Afanasy Nikitin to one of the streets of the capital and erect a monument,” said Konstantin Mogilevskiy with reference to the Russian Association for International Cooperation, which is leading the preparation of commemorative events.

Shipbuilders and historians have been meeting on a regular basis for the past several years in order to “compare notes”

In turn, USC’s Vice President Dzhakhan Pollyeva noted that Afanasy Nikitin’s journey, which is still quite uneasy to make even in the conditions of the 21st century, became possible thanks to the outstanding personal qualities of the Tver merchant, and his travel notes are still demanded and relevant even after five and a half centuries.  

Olga Podshuveit, director of the Saint Petersburg branch of the World Ocean Museum, elaborated on the exhibition “Journey Beyond Three Seas. Voyage by Afanasy Nikitin”, which was held in the exhibition centre of the museum and organized with support of the “History of Motherland” Fund and participation of the United Shipbuilding Corporation. A series of illustrations for the “Journey Beyond Three Seas” book was the main element of the exhibition. 

During the round table, Olga Podschuveit handed over to Konstantin Mogilevskiy a copy of the second sheet of Fedor Bellingshausen’s reported navigational charts on sailing in the waters of the Arctic Ocean in 1819, 1820 and 1821. The second sheet of reported charts is a documented and irrefutable evidence of our country’s priority in the discovery of the Antarctic Continent.

The meeting was held in the Tver En Route Imperial Palace, which now hosts the regional art gallery. Tatiana Kuyukina, director of the gallery, reminded that it was not only Catherine II, who started her trip along the Volga River in a galley. The palace also served as a residence for Grand Duchess Ekaterina Pavlovna and Minister of Railways of the Russian Empire George of Oldenburg. “All his inspection trips used to start from the quay at the palace, which is why the history of this building is also closely connected to waterways,” underscored Tatiana Kuyukina.

Liudmila Skakovskaya, acting president of the Tver State University, said that the theme of the round table was of great current importance and expressed hope that the new generation of students may provide their own contribution to its scrutiny.  

At the end of the round table, the organizers expressed confidence that the importance of inland waterways with all the existing supply chains today will steadily increase. A scientific and research component of the project was touched upon as well. There is a lack of comprehensive studies on the above-mentioned theme, and this gap needs to be filled. 

New meetings lie ahead, and they will surely generate fresh ideas and concepts. It needs to be noted that the format of such joint events is not something new for the USC and the Russian Historical Society. The shipbuilders and historians have been meeting on a regular basis for the past several years in order to “compare notes”. Firstly, the most effective and non-standard answers to the most serious challenges of our time can only be found by referring to the legacy of past years. Secondly, coordinated efforts of shipbuilders and members of the Russian Historical Society do not allow anybody to forget that, starting from the “Orel” frigate, constructed 350 years ago by decree of tsar Alexei Mikhailovich, Russia has been maintaining the status of a great maritime power.

Photo: ALEXANDER SHALGIN, PRESS-SERVICE OF THE RUSSIAN HISTORICAL SOCIETY (RHS) 

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