Russia’s Big Week

The last week saw five major developments in the Russian Arctic. The Federation sent a new icebreaker directly to the North Pole, recorded an unprecedented amount of Arctic shipping through the Northeast Passage, and oversaw a formerly dominant shipping corporation’s bankruptcy filing. Additionally, the Federation closed in on a Korean infrastructure deal, and uncovered new petroleum reserves with the aid of China.

Icebreakers and Ice

Built in 2016, the Arktika successfully completed its voyage to the North Pole, breaking through ice up to three meters thick along the journey. Despite a troubled construction, the nuclear-powered Arktika exceeded expectations by completing the voyage unscathed. On its route, the vessel recorded unprecedentedly northern Arctic sea-ice. This means that polar ice had receded closer to the poles than expected.

Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika leaves the port of Saint Petersburg on September 22, 2020 for its maiden voyage to its future home port of Murmansk in northwestern Russia where it is expected in two weeks after undergoing tests of its performance en route. – Designed to transport liquefied natural gas from the Arctic, the 173 metres (570 feet) long and 15 metres high giant vessel is touted as the most powerful of its kind and a symbol of Moscow’s Arctic ambitions. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s development of the Northeast Passage is paying off. From January to September, a record 22.98 million tons in goods were shipped along the route. Less than half of this amount passed through the passage in just 2017. Shrinking sea-ice and steadily improving infrastructure are working in tandem to make the Arctic Sea a maritime shipping superhighway.\

Boom and Bust

Amid the rapid expansion of Russia’s Arctic economy, the previously dominant Murmansk Shipping Company filed for bankruptcy. The company lost several crucial contracts, and was gradually overtaken by competitors.

Korean and Chinese Infrastructure Assistance

The Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering company is set to construct maritime storage facilities for Russian liquified natural gas (LNG). All of the LNG will be exported, and maritime storage will cut export costs substantially. The deal further cements growing ties between Russia and Korea.

Utilizing Chinese semi-submersible drilling infrastructure, state energy corporation Gazprom discovered new sources of gas in Leningradskoye field, significantly increasing the field’s value.

The success is emblematic of China and Russia’s partnership generally, whereby Chinese capital or technology is exchanged for access to Russian resources and sea-space.

Chinese paramilitary police border guards train in the snow at Mohe County in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, on the border with Russia, on December 12, 2016. – Mohe is the northernmost point in China, with a sub arctic climate where border guards operate in temperatures as low as -36 Celcius. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
The Arctic’s Russian Future

Holding vast swathes of Arctic territory, it’s only natural that Russia enjoys significant influence  in the region. Despite sanctions and isolation, the Federation’s mixed model of economic development, combining private, public, and military investment, continues to be successful. Arctic states should look to Russia for inspiration in charting their own courses to sovereignty and prosperity in the High North.

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