Staunton, May 28 – The passion with which Moscow commentators defend the idea that the Northern Sea Route must remain under exclusive Russian control reflects not just geopolitical and geo-economic calculations but also the central role that route plays in linking together the thinly populated Russian North to the rest of the country.
“For Russia,” Konstantin Sivkov argues, “the Northern Sea Route has particular significance as an internal line of communications linking sparsely populated territories along the shore of the Arctic Ocean with the well-developed eastern and western regions of our country” (vpk-news.ru/articles/62275).
In addition, he says, the Route is the shortest waterway communication connecting the Far East of Russia with its main economic districts in the western portion of the country.” Were this link to be compromised, there would be a very real danger of “the separation from Russia” of an enormous number of resource rich but population poor regions.
Most foreign governments focus on the benefits to international shipping that could accrue if there were international arrangements governing the Northern Sea Route, ignoring the fact that Russians do not that their country does not have a developed transport network in the North on land and thus must depend heavily on the sea.
The Russian military specialist casts his argument in terms of what is required to operate in an area in which some country must provide the basis for free navigation. According to him, as long as ships can make the passage without the need for icebreakers, no one needs to control the Northern Sea Route more than anyone else.
But when ice appears which is every year for significant periods, “it is not Russia but nature herself which blocks free sailing on the Northern Sea Route without Russian support.” That simply has to be recognized, and those who talk about “internationalizing” the route are really talking about something much bigger.
“International control would lead us to the loss of a significant part of Russian territory,” Sivkov says. “Russia would have to give up its sovereignty over the ports of the Northern Sea Route, including Murmansk and Arkhangelsk which have most important economic and military-strategic importance.”
“We woull.d have to allow foreign control and administration at our airports of polar aviation by giving others the right to run their activity. Our icebreaker fleet also would have to be handed over to foreign masters.” And foreign control would not be limited to these technical locations but would extend over much of the Russian North, he insists.
“Is this acceptable for Russia? Obviously not! It would be unacceptable for the US if there were a requirement to place under international control its largest ports, scientific centers, airports, and other objects, which allow for sailing through the use of their communications nets,” Sivkov concludes.