Volga-Baltic Waterway

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Volga-Baltic Waterway

Volga-Baltic Waterway, canal and river system, c.685 mi (1,100 km) long, N European Russia. It links the Volga River and the St. Petersburg industrial area. It consists of the Moscow-Volga Canal, the Volga River, the Rybinsk Reservoir, the Mariinsk system (composed of the Sheksna River, the White Lake Canal, the Kovzha River, the Mariinsk Canal, and the Vytegra River), the Onega Canal, the Svir River, the Ladoga Canals, and the Neva River to St. Petersburg. The waterway was begun in 1709 to connect St. Petersburg with the interior. The major canals were built in the 1930s. The waterway was reconstructed and modernized in the early 1960s, the principal addition being a dam across the Sheksna River near Cherepovets, which deepened the waterway as far as the Kovzha River, facilitating the use of larger vessels. Although more extensive, this waterway follows the historic Baltic-Volga trade route, in use since the 9th cent.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Volga-Baltic Waterway


(full name, V. I. Lenin Volga-Baltic Waterway; formerly the Mariinskaia Water System), an artificial waterway connecting the Volga River with the Baltic Sea and, through the White Sea-Baltic Canal, with the White Sea.

Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea at the start of the 18th century and the growing role of St. Petersburg demanded convenient water connection with the country’s interior. Three waterways were established: the Vyshnii Volochek (traffic opened in 1709), Tikhvin (1811), and Mariinskaia (1810) waterways. The Mariinskaia Water System started at the city of Rybinsk. Then the route passed through the Sheksna River, Lake Beloe, the Kovzhea River, the artificial Mariinskii Canal (later Novomariinskii) constructed through the watershed between the Volga basin and Lake Onega, the Vytegra River, Lake Onega, the Svir’ River, Lake Ladoga, and the Neva River—a total of about 1,100 km. The Mariinskaia System proper was part of the route from the Volga to Lake Onega. The Severo-Dvina Canal (opened in 1829) started at the Sheksna River and, through the Sukhona and Severnaia Dvina rivers, provided access to the White Sea. The difficulties in navigating small flat-bottomed boats on the lakes made it necessary to build roundabout canals: the Belozersk, Onega, and Novoladoga canals. For its time the Mariinskaia System was an outstanding hydroengineering structure and had great economic value. However, by the beginning of the 20th century it no longer satisfied the country’s transportation demands, despite the reconstruction carried out in the 19th century.

The construction of a new waterway between Lake Onega and the Volga River began after the Great Patriotic War of 1941-45 and expanded in 1960. On June 5, 1964, the Volga-Baltic Waterway was opened. This route is a section of the single deepwater transportation system of the European USSR, which unifies those waterways that exit into the Baltic, White, Caspian, Black, and Azov seas.

The total length of the route between Lake Onega and the city of Cherepovets is 368 km. At times this route follows the course of the former Mariinskaia System, at times it deviates from it. The Volga-Baltic waterway has five powerful hydro-engineering complexes (each complex includes power stations, dams, canals, and the like) with seven single-chamber, one-way locks. On the northern slope there are four hydroengineering complexes—the Vytegra, Belousovo, Novinki, and Pakhomovo complexes—which are located on the elevation between Lake Onega and the watershed (80 meters). The fifth hydroengineering complex (Cherepovets) is on the southern slope on the Sheksna, 50 km above Cherepovets.

On the northern slope the route follows the Vytegra’s channel and passes through the water reservoirs formed by the hydroengineering complexes. The watershed stretches from the Pakhomovo hydroengineering complex on the Vytegra River to the Cherepovets hydroengineering complex on the Sheksna River. The navigable route here passes through a 40-km watershed canal (from the Pakhomovo hydroengineering complex to the settlement of Annenskii Most) and then passes through the Kovzha River, Lake Beloe, and the Sheksna River. The course of the southern slope passes along the Sheksna, which is located at a backwater of the Rybinsk Reservoir.

The Volga-Baltic Waterway is accessible to ships with a freight capacity of 5,000 tons; cargo is transported without reloading. Ships sail directly through the lakes instead of through roundabout canals. Transportation by self-propelled cargo ships is prevalent, and there is through towing of rafts. Transport speed has increased sharply. (The trip from Cherepovets to Leningrad takes 2½-3 days compared with 10-15 before the reconstruction.) The freight turnover has increased significantly in comparison with the old Mariinskaia System. The proportion of mixed railway-water transportation has also increased. The most important cargoes are iron-ore concentrate from the Kola Peninsula (through Kandalaksha), which is transported to the Cherepovets metallurgical combine; apatite and apatite concentrate from Khibin; granite and diabase from Karelia, which is shipped to various regions; timber and lumber from Arkhangelsk and Vologda oblasts, which is transported to the south, the Baltic Region, and Leningrad and for export; ferrous metals from Cherepovets; coal from the Donets basin and Kuznetsk basin, sulphuric pyrite from the Urals, and potassium salts from Solikamsk, which are sent to the northwest, to the Baltic Region, and for export; Baskunchak salt (especially for Murmansk); and grain. Tankers from the Volga carry petroleum to the Northwest, to the Baltic Region, and for export. Imported cargo is shipped through Leningrad and the Volga-Baltic Waterway to various regions of the country. There is a significant number of tourist motor ships (itineraries from Leningrad to Moscow, Astrakhan, Rostov-on-Don, Perm’, and other cities).


Ginzburg, N. S. “Rekonstruktsiia Volgo-Baltiiskogo vodnogo puti.” Izv. Vsesoiuznogo geograficheskogo obshchestva, 1962, issue 3.
Malkov, V. M. Po Volgo-Baltu …. Vologda, 1966.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
In Russia, the newly refurbished Amakatarina will offer cruises on the Volga-Baltic waterway with large balcony staterooms and four suite categories.