Staunton, February 28 – One aspect of Russia’s plans for the development of the Northern Sea Route, the establishment of a shorter sea lane between Europe and Asia, has received a great deal of attention. But a second, the way it will connect much of Northern Russia to the rest of the country has not, even though it may be just as important.
Most of the northern third of the Russian Federation is effectively cut off from the rest of the country. There are no all-season roads and few rail lines, air traffic is increasingly sporadic, and despite bold talk about changing this by extending transportation routes into the north, relatively little has happened in recent years.
Now, however, as global warming reduces the ice coverage in the Arctic and the use of the Northern Sea Route is expanding, Moscow is focusing on using that corridor not only to expand east-west trade but also to tie the Russian north to itself not from the south by land but from the north by sea.
This project, which some have called “the second Northern Sea Route,” will involve first of all linking 11 regional centers in Russia’s Far North into a fiber optic cable to be laid by an international consortium of companies between Helsinki and Tokyo, Regnum commentator Vladimir Stanulevich says (regnum.ru/news/polit/3202425.html).
The Arctic Connect consortium of Russian, Finnish, Japanese and Scandinavian companies will be drawing on the resources of international financial organizations that will be promoting Russia’s domestic development and Moscow’s ability to project power into the Arctic even as they build what appears at first blush to be only an international communications link.
Three of Russia’s Arctic regions – Sakha, Chukotka, and Komi – have already signed on to this project, hoping that it will boost development within them. But other projects are already in train of expanding ties between these distant regions and central Russia and may have an even greater impact.
Among these are plans to build five floating nuclear power stations that can be towed to places along the Arctic coast to support mining and industrial development (strana-rosatom.ru/2021/02/15/новый-глава-гидрографического-предп/ and thebarentsobserver.com/ru/yadernaya-bezopasnost/2021/03/na-vostoke-rossiyskoy-arktiki-mozhet-poyavitsya-celaya-flotiliya).
Such plants would obviate the need to build new power stations or powerlines in a region already facing the degree of permafrost melting that makes such projects difficult, but they are certain to raise questions about the security of nuclear power plants that will pass through areas of civilian shipping.