Staunton, October 6 – “The whole Northern Sea Route is now ice-free. There are only certain areas with drifting icebergs around the Vilkitsky Strait and by Cape Zhelaniya in Novaya Zemlya, as well as ice hammocks in parts of the East Siberian Sea,” according to Russia’s Federal Agency for Maritime and River Transport.
As Atle Staalesen, the editor of The Barents Observer, points out, this has allowed the amount of cargo passing in both directions north of Russia to increase and means that it is quite possible that Vladimir Putin’s goal for 2024 will be met in 2025 and not much later as had been predicted earlier (thebarentsobserver.com/ru/klimaticheskiy-krizis/2020/10/ploshchad-morskih-ldov-sokrashchaetsya-gruzopotok-v-arktike-bet-novyy).
While the ice has retreated further north than in all but one year in the recent past, some of it will certainly return during the winter months, but the length of the ice-free or minimum-ice period has increased and will likely increase in the coming years because of now well-established global warming trends in the high Arctic.
That has at least three consequences:
· First, competition for shipping along with route will increase, with more ships and more countries involved. That will intensify disputes about Russia’s claims of an economic exclusion zone based on continental shelf models (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/04/moscow-close-to-un-recognition-that-its.html).
· Second, Moscow will be under pressure to expand its presence along the Arctic coastline, installing promised guidance and rescue facilities and likely intensifying conflicts between Moscow and the numerically small non-Russian nations who live there and increasing the likelihood of environmental disasters there (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2020/06/norilsk-tip-of-iceberg-as-millions-of.html).
· And third – and pointing in an entirely different direction – it may cause both Russia and other countries, including China and the US to slow or even reverse their current drives to add to their icebreaker fleets (jamestown.org/program/kremlins-much-ballyhooed-icebreaker-project-in-real-trouble/).