Frozen Arctic Affairs Council | Latest news The Moscow Post
03 March 2024

Frozen Arctic Affairs Council

The Arctic Council, almost in full "Western" composition, will soon be part of NATO. It remains to accept Sweden. The Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of this "neighbor" of Russia called on fellow citizens to be ready for conflicts.

A similar appeal was made by the Minister of Civil Defense. I wonder who the Swedes were going to fight with? The answer was given by the head of the Kingdom's Foreign Ministry when he stated that assistance to Ukraine would be the main task of Sweden in the field of foreign policy. Details in the material The Moscow Post.

Membership in the Arctic Council was the little that has recently somehow connected Russia not only with Sweden, but also with another newly minted member of the North Atlantic Alliance - Finland. All this is in the past, the Arctic Council is de facto no more. The section of the site "History of the Arctic Council" ends in 2021.

Intergovernmental cooperation continued at the "non-governmental level."

Formalities remain, but Moscow is holding something back from fixing its relations in the Arctic with an expanded NATO. In explanations with the "intergovernmental body for solving common problems" itself, the formula was chosen: "the period of forced freezing of the full-format activities of the [Arctic] Council."

Key transport corridor

"Partners" of Russia initiated this "freeze" in March 2022. During the two years of the Russian presidency of the Arctic Council, much more has happened. Russia has begun demilitarization of Ukraine. Finland joined NATO. A full-scale military operation in Gaza began Israel. The Houthis said they would not allow related vessels to pass through the waters of the Red Sea and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

By this time, 36 million tons of various cargo were transported along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) in 2023 and cargo traffic grew from year to year. In 2024, it is planned to increase cargo traffic to 72 million tons.

If we take the export of hydrocarbons through the NSR by NOVATEK (20.45 million tons), Gazprom Neft (6.3 million tons) and transit transportation, then in 2023 almost 29 million tons of only hydrocarbons came out. Year-round regular navigation will begin when NOVATEK's first scheduled flights to the East are launched.

President Vladimir Putin put forward the task of making the Northern Sea Route (NSR) a key transport corridor and stressed that the NSR is becoming more and more effective for transporting goods than the Suez Canal, but an icebreaker fleet is needed to guide ships.

At a conference of the BRICS countries in August 2023, the Russian leader announced plans to build new ports, fuel terminals in the region, and launch ice-class vessels. In September 2023, Russia sent the first ever crude oil tanker with a destination in Ningbo, China, via the NSR. In October, Vladimir Putin informed Chinese President Xi Jinping about plans to start navigating the NSR of ice-class cargo ships year-round.

The conditional time for transportation of goods from Murmansk via the NSR to the port of Zhizhao (Shandong) is 35 days, the transportation time through the Suez Canal exceeds 45 days. According to estimates, transportation along the NSR may become one of the sources of export income for Russia.

Barriers overcome

Transport tariffs established for the passage of ships through the NSR will affect its workload and the pace of development of the Russian Arctic. Rosatom was instructed to be responsible for organizing navigation in the NSR, developing navigation routes and organizing the work of icebreakers. The Council of Shipping Participants was created, uniting shippers and shipping companies.

High energy costs are a barrier to the development of the Arctic. In the Arctic regions of Yakutia, the economically reasonable electricity tariff is in the region of 70 rubles/kWh, which is much higher than in the European part of Russia and Siberia.

The new quality of energy supply to the Arctic region is provided by nuclear-powered energy sources. An example of the solution is the Akademik Lomonosov floating nuclear thermal power plant (two KLT-40S reactors, installed electric capacity - 70 MW, thermal - up to 50 Gcal/h.). The world's only floating nuclear power plant has been operating since 2020 in Pevek.

According to the Ministry of Energy, the recoverable oil and gas reserves in the Arctic region of the country amount to 260 billion tons of conventional fuel, or 60% of all recoverable hydrocarbon resources in Russia. In the Arctic, more than ten clusters around solid mineral deposits can be created.

For their development, Rosatom is building four floating power units on RITM-200 reactors. Including for the Baimsky GOK, one of the largest copper and gold reserves in Chukotka. Rosatom is also building a low-power ground station at a RITM-200N in Yakutia for the Kyuchus gold mine. Another promising project is the small 10 MW Shelf station for the Sovinoye gold mine.

For NATO, looking for a role in the Arctic

The Arctic occupies 4% of the Earth's surface and consists of the northern regions of eight states, including Russia, Norway, Finland, as well as Sweden, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Canada and the USA (Alaska).

"It is important to expand the positive relations that we have in the Arctic Council in order to cover the military sphere," Lavrov said in May 2021 in Reykjavik, accepting the presidency of the Arctic Council from Iceland. Lavrov then proposed to start with a meeting of military experts of the General Staff of eight Arctic countries for the sake of "preserving the Arctic as a territory of peace, stability and constructive cooperation."

Russia in 2021 was looking for ways to avoid conflict. "Continue the civilized dialogue" failed. In June 2023, Lavrov said that "the Arctic Council was one of the unique mechanisms for the development of equal, depoliticized cooperation," but this was undermined by "the obsession of Western countries with the desire to isolate Russia," the minister said.

Lavrov recalled that in the Council "conversations began, which until recently did not exist, that it was necessary to find a role for the North Atlantic Alliance in order to ensure the safety of navigation." And he warned: "These processes do not cause optimism. We will take them into account with our military-technical actions. "

There is less ice, there are more contradictions

In recent years, less ice has become in the Kara Sea, waves erode the coastline of about. Wiese in the north of the Kara Sea. Activists of the Russian branch of the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) (recognized in the Russian Federation as an undesirable organization), recognized as an undesirable organization, have long been worried about the fate of the fauna there.

Years later, or rather, on June 21, 2023, the Prosecutor General's Office of the Russian Federation stated that the "so-called environmental and environmental activities" of WWF projects (recognized in the Russian Federation as an undesirable organization) posed threats to Russia's security in the economic sphere. Next, the Ministry of Justice added WWF (recognized in the Russian Federation as an undesirable organization) to the list of undesirable organizations in the Russian Federation.

"Under the pretext of preserving the environment," the fund worked against the course towards the development of the Russian part of the Arctic, contributed to "the development and legitimization of restrictions that could serve as the basis for transferring the NSR route towards the exclusive economic zone of the United States," the decision was justified.

The WWF representative office (recognized in the Russian Federation as an undesirable organization) opened in Russia in 1994, in 2004 the WWF of Russia was created (recognized as a foreign agent in the Russian Federation). Around this time, namely in 1996, Finland proposed the creation of the Arctic Council. What do you think for? To help Russia develop the Arctic zone, improve the living conditions of people living there, including representatives of indigenous peoples?

The answer is not only obvious to us. "Western environmentalists seem to care much more about Arctic ice than the people who live on it," said Spiked, a British online magazine. In the West, the Arctic was often mentioned only in the context of global warming, but problems appeared more seriously.

The environmental agenda has been repeatedly used by developed countries as a competitive tool. Not seeing this "ecological web" would be as strange as, for example, maintaining the representation of the Russian Federation at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Then they chose a formula that today, in relation to NATO's neighbors in the Arctic, may sound like this: "If representatives of the Arctic Council" have some kind of emergency business, "they can turn to the Russian ambassador in Helsinki."

Russia is half of the world Arctic

From the point of view of Russian law, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea (within the Russian sector) are flood-type seas and historically belong to Russia. They are subject to the regime of internal sea waters and there is no reason to extend the regime of free general use to the straits in the NSR water area.

In the Federal Law of the Russian Federation of July 28, 2012 N 132-FZ "On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation in Terms of State Regulation of Merchant Shipping in the Waters of the Northern Sea Route," as "historically established national transport communication," open to foreign vessels that comply with the Rules for navigation in the waters of the NSR.

Russia is half of the entire world Arctic. A third of the country's territory is in the Arctic zone. 2.4 million people live there, or about 1.6% of the population. Every sixth ruble that is created in the Russian economy is related to the Arctic.

The Murmansk region is the flagship of the development of this region. Global projects are being implemented in the region, a quarter of the population of the Russian Arctic zone lives there. For four years, the domestic regional product of the Murmansk region per capita has grown 2.5 times. In December 2023, working traffic was launched along the railway line of the Murmansk transport hub with an ice-free deep-sea port, one of the five largest ports in Russia.

Master plans for the supporting cities of the Arctic are being developed. The Murmansk region will be gasified. Gazprom collects initial data for the design of the Volkhov-Murmansk gas pipeline. Its capacity will be 40 billion cubic meters per year. Most of the gas will be used for LNG production at NOVATEK's Murmansk LNG plant. The NSR begins in Murmansk, which connects the western part of Russia with the eastern part, and also connects the countries of the Asia-Pacific region (APR) with Europe. The northwestern ports of the Russian Federation ship about 250 million tons of cargo per year in a western direction. Part goes to the ports to Suez, and part - through Suez to the Asia-Pacific region.

There are prospects for the growth of cargo flows. Rosatom State Corporation has created Rusatom Arctic JSC to develop business in the Arctic zone.

Rosatom and port operator DP World (UAE) have created a joint venture for transit transportation of containers.

Only Rosatom has technical capabilities to ensure safety on the ice part of the route from the Kara Gate to Chukotka (5.6 thousand km). The nuclear fleet of this state corporation was also among the "allies" of Russia. By 2035, the "eastern grouping" of nuclear icebreakers will be increased to nine.

And as for the "cooperation bodies," then, as they say, at the expert and practical levels, the ideas of connecting the BRICS member countries to joint work with the Russian Federation in the Arctic are being considered.

Photo: vm

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