The Northern Sea Route as a Driver of Development in the Arctic

Photo: Makovnev Afanasii/

The Northern Sea Route as a Driver of Development in the Arctic

Logistics is key to sustainable development in the Russian Arctic. In terms of economy and new projects, success stories above the Polar Circle are only possible where there is a transport connection with the rest of the country. This is exactly why the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is so important to the Russian High North.

Improving the way the NSR functions is a top priority for both Russia’s authorities and big business. According to Arctic and Far Eastern Minister Alexey Chekunkov, there is a possibility that some 80 billion metric tons of cargo per year will be transported through the NSR by 2024 -- a target value set by order of President Putin in May 2018. To this end, several major Arctic projects have to kick off, namely, a coal cluster in Taimyr and Vostok Oil, an oil project controlled by Rosneft. Despite the global decarbonization trend, coal, oil and gas will account for the bulk of traffic from the Russian Arctic for the next ten to fifteen years, Minister Chekunkov says.

Being an export route is not the only role the NSR is expected to play. The Ministry and the Rosatom Corporation are working together to launch a regular container line connecting the Russian Far East with the St. Petersburg and Murmansk ports. At its initial stages, the line will be subsidized by the Russian government to be able to compete with the existing trade routes. The line may be reportedly put in operation as early as next year.

To meet the ambitious objectives, it is crucial that the NSR becomes open to navigation all year round -- a task yet to be accomplished. Minister Chekunkov believes this can be achieved with the new nuclear-powered icebreakers and other ice-class vessels entering service in the near future.

Overall, the NSR is demonstrating a clear upward trend. As the marine traffic increases following the expansion of exploration and mining in the High North, new challenges arise in terms of infrastructural development of the NSR and shipbuilding. In this context, a concerted effort of the government and key corporate players should be made to meet the growing needs.
Alexander Stotskiy
1 September 2021
Arctic Today