The Arctic and Russia


In 2017, a Russian oil tanker crossed the Arctic without the assistance of an icebreaker. The voyage took just 19 days, significantly less time than the 48 days it generally takes for ships to go from China to Europe's biggest port, Rotterdam. While the warming climate is melting the ice caps, making this stretch of water accessible for the first time in human history... making it is simpler for us to transport the fossil fuels that caused the ice to melt in the first place.


It's an iron-laden maritime commerce route that we've never had before, and Russia is now building a vast infrastructure to seize it with the $110 billion megaport on the Taymyr Peninsula. It will contain the country's largest Arctic oil terminal and is so massive and isolated that state-owned oil major Rosneft will have to first develop the infrastructure required merely to travel to the site. To get construction started and housing the 400,000 employees required to make it all happen, new roads, two airports, 15 communities, and many power plants will be built around the region. Over 18,000 tonnes of heavy machinery, residential accommodations, and communications equipment have been delivered to the site so far. The nation is also constructing a 770-kilometre pipeline to deliver oil to the port, where it will be transported the rest of the way to Europe and Asia by ten new ice-class tankers. This will supply 25 million tonnes of oil by 2025 and 100 million tonnes by 2030 if fully operating.


It's worth noting that, despite the expenditures of this project seeming to be tremendous, they are insignificant about the expected revenues. And this mega port is only one aspect of a wider regional development plan. The Arctic's potential has long been recognised by the Russians. They dispatched an extremely chilly diver down to the Arctic Sea's bottom to hoist a flag at the North Pole in 2007. The nation then published its Northern Sea Route Development Plan in 2018. The goal is to significantly boost Russian economic development along the Northern Sea Route over the next 15 years, effectively making the area a viable alternative to the Suez Canal for shipping cargo between Europe and Asia, particularly during the summer months, when the sea ice may melt completely. Russia plans to expand freight flow via the region by at least 72 million tonnes by 2035, and it is on course to do so. Traffic surged by 80% from the previous year to 16 million tonnes in 2018, and it is expected to climb to 23 million tonnes in 2019. Russian Arctic infrastructure is being hauled in from the cold and is receiving significant funding. Ports are being upgraded, ice-class cargo ships are being built, and railroads are being built. And it's not just about oil. On each end of the route, the Russian state-owned energy corporation Rosatom and the UAE-based DP World are co-developing new ports in Murmansk and Vladivostok. Construction is underway to build vessels to transfer cargo from ice-class ships to conventional ships.


The United Arab Emirates is not the only nation interested in investing in Russia's infrastructure. New ports and commercial routes are also in high demand in South Korea and China. China and Russia announced in 2018 that they will collaborate on a new "Arctic Silk Road," signing 20 bilateral cooperation treaties and promising to invest in the area. As part of this, Beijing will construct additional Chinese docks in Russia's northwestern ports, which are presently undeveloped and unable to handle large amounts of cargo. As previously stated, several new railroads are being constructed to serve these ports. A 500-kilometre route connecting Perm in the Ural Mountains with various northern port cities is under construction. Russia has just completed an $889 million fibre optic network known as "The Polar Express." The cable, which extends 12,600 kilometres from Teriberka to Vladivostok, would improve internet and phone connectivity for the 2.5 million people who reside in Russia's far north, about half of the Arctic's population.


Several civilian airports, including Amderma in the west and Pevek, Chersky, and Keperveyem in the east, are also celebrating their birthdays. The Gulf of Ob will be dredged in 2022, enabling bigger ships to travel through this key location: ships that Russia is producing in great numbers. At least 40 new Arctic boats, including eight nuclear-powered icebreakers and 16 rescue and support ships, will be built. Some of them will be Lider-class icebreakers, which can break through very thick Arctic ice and then clear a passage for commercial ships to follow. As you can think, all of these buildings has caused concern in various nations. The US has reminded Russia that the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage are utilised as international shipping lanes and are not solely under their authority. Even though most of the route is inside the country's exclusive economic zone. Russia is also reliant on foreign investment to build most of this new infrastructure, depending on nations that would gain substantially from a Suez Canal alternative.


Now, the nation has always claimed that its new oil mega ports would be ecologically beneficial and have a low hydrocarbon footprint. Wind turbines are expected to power the oil installations. However, the world does not need additional oil infrastructure at this time, and various environmental organisations have fought against these projects. Construction might harm Arctic wildlife in parts of the oil fields, which are situated inside a designated nature reserve. In terms of climate change, Russia has always been a laggard. While it has become a big domestic political problem, the Kremlin prefers to minimise its importance. Russia is the fourth greatest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and it accepted the Paris Agreement in 2019. It has now committed to achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2060, however, it has not yet agreed to phase out coal and methane emissions during the following decade. One thing is certain: as we continue through the twenty-first century and witness unfortunately less and less ice in the Arctic, the world will alter in ways we can not anticipate.