Staunton, Oct. 12 – When Moscow announced the construction of a new generation of super icebreakers, many in Russia saw that as a guarantee that Russia would be able to maintain or even expand its dominance over the Northern Sea Route and allow the Kremlin to project power deep into the Arctic Ocean.
But now those expectations have been dashed. Not only has Moscow announced ten billion rubles (100 million US dollars) in cuts in funding for the construction of new icebreakers in the coming years but said that the ships of the new class are unlikely to be launched before 2030, far behind schedule (kommersant.ru/doc/6267903 and thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2023/10/moscow-cuts-funding-icebreakers).
These cuts come at a time when Moscow is increasing spending on defense overall, and they highlight the choices the Kremlin is having to make because of its campaign in Ukraine. But this choice has two important consequences, reducing Moscow’s ability to maintain its dominance in the Arctic and opening the way for China and others to expand their role there.
Russia still has a sizeable advantage in icebreaker capacity over the West, but these cuts and delays mean that Western countries, including the United States, now have more time to catch up and give them some hope of being in a position to counter both Russia and a rising China in the north.