Melting arctic ice pits Russia against U.S. and China over control of new sea route
MOURMANSK, Russia — Melting ice in the Arctic Ocean brings an age-old dream closer to the reality of Russia: a sea passage through its northern waters that could place it at the center of a new global trade route.
After one of the hottest years on record, the Kremlin is on the verge of realizing its controversial plans for a global sea route in its High North, plans that have put Moscow at odds with the United States and could create friction with China, two countries which also have designs on the Arctic.
The warming of the Arctic is happening twice as fast as the rest of the planet. Last year, ice cover reached some of the lowest levels on record, and it is not expected to decline further until 2021. This is pushing Moscow to build infrastructure along the route, which may reduce d ‘a third the distance of journeys between Europe and Asia. compared to shipping through the politically charged South China Sea or the congested Strait of Malacca currently used for freight.
This year’s shipping season on the Passage, which stretches across Russia’s vast Arctic coast, began earlier than ever, in February, when liquid natural gas carrier Christophe de Margerie left China for the north of the Yamal Peninsula. The trip followed an unprecedented sailing season of nearly eight months last year, giving Russia a taste of what the future might hold for the Northern Sea Route if traffic continues to grow.
Many issues remain, such as icebreaker escort fares, transit costs, and the unpredictability of navigating the Arctic Circle. But opening the passage would place Russia at the center of a new global sea route for energy and freight. Moscow says it has the right to restrict passage and set prices for transit, and the route would also give it an important bargaining chip in its dealings with China, one of the crossing’s biggest beneficiaries. 3,500 miles.