CASR | Arctic Spring | Arctic Sovereignty - Index | Arctic
Empires | Arctic Viking
CASR – Canadian American Strategic Review – Arctic Sovereignty
Arctic Sovereignty - Russian Claims - Strategic Resources - December 2007
Russia and the Arctic: Strategic Resources Exploited Using Existing and New Infrastructure on the Siberian Northern Sea Route
Excerpts of an article published by the Defence Academy of the UK 
Russia Racing to claim large portions of Arctic Seabed under UN Law of the Sea
In a recent interview, the Commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, Admiral Vladimir Vysotskiy, stated that "the basis for ... Russia's socio-economic stability and security is now being laid
down in the development of the resources and [regions] of the Arctic".
This attitude towards the military importance of [Arctic resources and northern sealanes] contrasts sharply with the North American approach. Canada [has just begun to realize] that the True North
may be 'strong and free', but it is presently naked and unguarded in the face of increased activity by foreign states.
These differing approaches to Northern defence are reflected in the patterns of existing infrastructure, and the new developments on the opposite sides of the Arctic Ocean. Russia has
had a long history of settlement and economic activity in the most unlikely parts of its Far North. [Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there were, of course, massive reductions in the
northern population, particularly among the educated.] However, in sharp contrast to the Canadian North, the Russian Arctic coastal areas have fully functioning infrastructure in place, ready for
future economic development.
Suggestions that Churchill, Manitoba, with its railway running south to the US, could be developed as Canada's Arctic port, as a kind of Canadian Murmansk, need to be placed in context. Churchill
has a permanent population of just over 1000, and its main industry is polar bear tourism. Murmansk, on the other hand, has a population of about 325,000. The port of Murmansk's well-developed
infrastructure and transport links have made it the main regional base for Barents Sea oil development. And Russia has many other Arctic ports.
Russia's Northern Sea Route ( NSR ) is lined with functioning Northern Sea Ports
Until 2003, Russia's Northern Sea Route (NSR) was subsidized by the state. The NSR was originally the key supply route for the development of the Russian North. To the end of the Soviet Union
and beyond, it played a vital role in the annual delivery of essentials, such as fuel and food, to the populated areas of the North. Even after the end of state subsidies, annual oil exports,
using the NSR, grew.
Recently, private companies have taken over some of these northern ports. For example, Norilsk Nickel now owns the ports of Dudinka and Port Dikson, modernizing them and running them at a profit.
The port of Igarka is now owned by the local forestry company. Seaport activity continues, and new ports have been established whenever there is a commercial reason for them to exist, such as the
Vitino or Varandey oil terminals. The NSR is administered by private companies, Murmansk Shipping Company (MSC) and Far Eastern Shipping Company.
Any increase in oil and gas tanker transport through the Northern Sea Route is expected to lead on to an early revival of general cargo transport: "The strategic development of maritime cargo
shipments in the Arctic in the immediate future ... is linked primarily with development of the continental shelf and the transport of hydrocarbons. Container shipments can be expected to appear
[in the near future]." This optimistic view presents the prospect of direct exports from western Siberia to foreign markets, as well as for imports from the Far East. These [ great expectations ]
were fueled by the visit, in July 2007, of the Japanese Ambassador, Yasuo Saito. Direct trade was high on the agenda.
The commercial viability of the NSR as a sea route alternative [to the Panama and Suez Canals] was recently backed up by the International
Northern Sea Route Programme, INSROP, headquartered in Norway. The researchers who prepared the study included the strong recommendation that Russia should agree to charge only
'reasonable' transit fees.
[ Recent estimates suggest that ] the NSR could reduce the distance from Rotterdam to Shanghai by about 23 percent, from Rotterdam to Vancouver by 22 percent, and from Rotterdam to Yokohama by
34 percent. Of course, the competitiveness of the NSR will increase commensurate with the rate of retreat of the Arctic ice. However, even in the short term, reduced ice cover will allow larger,
deeper-draft vessels to sail further away from shore, increasing the cost-effectiveness of the NSR.
The Existing Transportation System in the Russian North can feed into the NSR
Most areas of Russia's North lack anything resembling a road network, but intensively- developed river transport systems serve as the main north-south arteries. Exporters can transport their cargo
along the southern railway lines, which run east-to-west, then transfer their cargo at one (or more) of the major river ports situated on the large, north-flowing rivers. Examples of such
well-used river ports are Omsk on the Irtysh, Novosibirsk on the Ob, and Krasnoyarsk on the Yenisey. For many years, these rivers have been the main means of transport through the otherwise
inaccessible regions of Russia's northern frontier.
Arctic ice melts enable attempts to Extend the EEZ and search for Oil & Gas
There is little or no consensus on just how rapidly the Arctic ice is shrinking, but in August 2007, reports suggested that the summer Polar Ice Cap had retreated further than ever before.
Shrinkage of the summer ice over the last 30 years is estimated at about 15 to 20 percent. Local effects on individual port facilities can be dramatic.
For example, the Port of Vitino, in a northern arm of the traditionally ice-bound White Sea, is now considered to be navigable year-round. However, the retreat of the ice cover is not a
steady and straightforward process. In the short term, there are additional hazards to shipping caused by unpredictable ice movements even in relatively southerly sea routes.
True to form, Russian writing about the availability of icebreakers tends to paint a worst-case scenario for state-owned assets, while omitting to mention the products of new commercial activity.
At the end of the 1980s, the Soviet Union had 16 icebreakers servicing the NSR eight of them nuclear-powered. Only three (3) of these vessels are projected to remain in service by 2015.
But this sad inventory takes no account of the many commercial icebreakers used by Gazprom and Lukoil, nor of the icebreakers and 'ice-capable' tankers which were also built for Lukoil's
subsidiary, Lukoil Arctic Tanker.
Strategic Resources – State Agencies and Private Companies Share Interests
In the Arctic Ocean, the main impetus for resolving international disputes over Extended Economic Zones [ EEZs ] lies in the establishment of rights to exploit potential mineral deposits. The
strategic nature of these resources leads to close cooperation between some private companies and Russian government agencies.
For example, the Zvezdochka shipyard [near Archangel] is constructing drilling rigs specifically designed for the Arctic. These are intended both for exploiting mineral deposits, and
for supporting Russia's territorial claims to the Lomonosov Ridge.
Regaining control over the export of strategic energy resources – especially moving away from the use of ports in Latvia and Estonia – are the key drivers for the development of
the less vulnerable north coast ports of the Northern Sea Route.
Murmansk – unlike the ports on the Baltic or those along the Black Sea – gives Russia direct access to three oceans. From Murmansk, there is no need to pass through straits that make
Russian ships vulnerable. For the oil and gas industry, as well as for the Russian state, these geographical factors are seen as essential.
 'Looking North' was prepared by Keir Giles for the Defence Academy of the UK's Advanced Research and
Assessment Group, under their Russian Series, September 2007. Although the Defence Academy is fully funded by the UK's Ministry of Defence (MoD) the views expressed are the
CASR | Arctic Spring | Arctic Sovereignty - Index | Arctic
Empires | Arctic Viking