Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Moscow Backs Away from Extending Limits of Northern Sea Route

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 20 – RBC sources tell the news agency that the Russian government is backing away from a plan to extend the limits of the Northern Sea Route lest it put Moscow in conflict with foreign countries, a remarkable retreat given that the original plan to expand was designed to allow Russia to meet Vladimir Putin’s projection of what that route should cover.

            Putin said last year that the Northern Sea Route should see the amount of cargo carried double by 2024. The only way that target could be met was to expand the area of the Northern Sea Route east and west so that local trade could be counted within it, and officials made plans to do that (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/03/moscow-wont-meet-putin-targets-for.html).

            Now, however, without fanfare, a meeting last week chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnyev and including representatives of the development, transportation, and foreign ministries and Rosatom has decided not to lest it put Russia in violation of international law. RBC says  (rbc.ru/business/20/06/2020/5eecb19f9a7947cfd9e8abaf?from=from_main).

            Based on Law of the Sea rules, Russia will thus continue to define the Northern Sea Route as extending from the Kars Gates to Cape Dezhnev in Chukotka and not including areas west and east of that as Moscow had earlier suggested it would.  Rosatom reportedly was most opposed to the expansion. 

            What makes this latest decision noteworthy is not only that it will mean Russia will not meet Putin’s stated goal of 80 million tons of cargo on the Northern Sea Route by 2024 but also that it shows that in this case the Russian government plans to live by the rules at least in the Arctic where, given Putin’s exhortations, Moscow has been making ever more extravagant claims.

            Whether this is a turning point or a one-off decision there or elsewhere remains to be seen, but until now, most Russian commentator had acted as if the earlier decision to extend the length of the Northern Sea Route was a done deal because of the need to meet Putin’s plans. 

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