Staunton, January 8 – A new generation of Russian icebreakers is coming online, one that will not only help promote expanded use of the Northern Sea Route but give Moscow a new force it can deploy in battles for the resource-rich Arctic seabed, according to Svobodnaya pressa commentator Vladimir Tuchkov.
He reports that the launch of Russia’s latest icebreaker, the “Novorossiisk,” at the end of last month brings the country’s total number of such ships to 40, far exceeding that of any other country and reflecting Russia’s geographic position and economic and security needs (svpressa.ru/economy/article/163792/).
“Neither in quantity nor quality does any other fleet in the world have such a powerful flotilla capable of accompanying ships in wintertime” in the Arctic, Tuchkov says. At present, Sweden has seven icebreakers, Finland six, Canada four and one under construction, and others, including China and the US still fewer.
In terms of displacement, this difference, he says, is even greater; and only Russia has an atomic-powered icebreaker.
All this gives Russia advantages not only in promoting merchant trade across the Northern Sea Route but also in ensuring Russia’s security in the north. At least since 1989, Russian icebreakers have been designed in most cases as dual-use vessels, that is, civilian vessels with the capacity to convert rapidly into military ones in time of need.
Some of the apparatus and arms needed to do that are kept on board these nominally civilian ships, while others are held in storage on shore, Tuchkov says.
One measure of Russia’s relative strength in this sector, the commentator continues, occurred in January 2012 when the United States, which has only one operational icebreaker, had to request Russian assistance to supply fuel to the 3600 residents of Nome, Alaska. That effort marked “the first time in history” when fuel was delivered to that US state in wintertime.