| 25 May 2024, Saturday |

Moscow flexes muscle in Arctic region with nuclear icebreaker fleet

As Russia is pinning its ambition on a fleet of giant nuclear-powered icebreakers, preparations are underway for supremacy in Arctic region where melting ice and receding ice cover are creating new waterways.

Russia sees development of the Arctic as a historic mission. It already has huge projects to exploit its natural resources.

Its next big plan is for year-round use of the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane through Arctic waters Russia hopes could rival the Suez Canal.

This summer an icebreaker called fleet of giant nuclear-powered icebreakers. Its captain told AFP that Russia had special role to play in the Arctic.

“A third of our territory lies above the Arctic Circle. Our ancestors have long mastered frozen waters. We are continuing this successfully,” Dmitry Lobusov said.

President Vladimir Putin has made the development of the Arctic a strategic priority and state companies such as Gazprom Neft, Norilsk Nickel and Rosneft already have major projects in the Arctic to extract oil, gas and minerals.

“The Arctic region has enormous potential,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said earlier this month.

“In terms of resources, we’re talking about 15 billion tonnes of oil and 100 trillion cubic metres of gas. Enough for tens if not hundreds of years,” he said.

The Northern Sea Route links the Pacific to the Atlantic through Russian Arctic waters.

It is not currently navigable year-round without the help of icebreakers, though in summer some specialised classes of ships can pass through.

With the ice cover receding, Moscow is aiming for year-round navigation by 2030.

The route between east Asia and Europe is considerably shorter than through the Suez Canal.

When a huge container ship blocked the busy Suez shipping lane in March, Moscow touted the Northern Sea passage as a “viable alternative”.