Staunton, Nov. 15 – One of the greatest misconceptions about global warming is that it proceeds everywhere and in a linear fashion. In fact, while much of the planet is warming, some places are growing colder at least for a time. Thus, while much of the Northern Sea Route has become ice free in recent years, parts of it suffer from more, not less ice.
That means that more icebreakers and ships capable of sailing through ice are needed, and according to Atle Staalsen, the editor of The Barents Observer, Moscow at present lacks both the ice-capable ships and number of icebreakers necessary to cope with this reality (thebarentsobserver.com/ru/promyshlennost-i-energiya/2022/11/cherez-god-posle-krizisa-na-sevmorputi-snova-ranniy-led).
A year ago, because of early ice in the eastern portion of the Northern Sea Route, more than 20 ships were trapped for several weeks. Moscow was unable to help them, and that led at least some international shippers to turn away from plans to make broader use of this route (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/12/ice-in-eastern-portion-of-northern-sea.html).
Now, something similar is happening again, with early ice limiting transit. Some Russian officials have learned their lesson from last year and have discouraged transit. But at a time when Moscow needs to expand such trade, this is unlikely to be a sustainable position because any reduction in trade will hit Russia even harder because of the current sanctions regime.
As a result, Moscow will have to build more icebreakers and ice-capable ships, steps that will take several years at a minimum to do, or face the prospect that fewer ships will take the risk of running into ice along the Northern Sea Route. The alternative could be that China and other players will assume an even larger role in the Arctic than anyone had thought up to now.
(On China’s role along the Northern Sea Route and Russian concerns about it, see jamestown.org/program/china-pursuing-dominance-of-northern-sea-route/, jamestown.org/program/china-moves-toward-becoming-dominant-player-on-northern-sea-route/ and jamestown.org/program/china-helping-russia-on-northern-sea-route-now-but-ready-to-push-moscow-aside-later/.)
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