Russia offers Arctic route as an alternative to Suez canal

Tensions in the Red sea? Drought problems in Panama canal? Want to reduce the shipping industry’s carbon footprint? Well, here is a solution: Northern Sea Route (NSR). This is Russia’s pitch to the world.

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NSR, a shipping route through the Arctic Ocean, would have been very tough without climate change thawing the Arctic ice. The route is not entirely new, though. Shipping lines have used it during warm months, but the idea is gaining ground because the NSR is becoming a round-the-year route. The NSR can be a much shorter route between some European and Asian destinations. 

Now, the Red Sea crisis has given Russia another point to sell the NSR. At a session titled ‘North Sea Route: The Boundless Potential of the Arctic’ Atomexpo 2024, a conference of the nuclear energy sector, organised here by Rosatom, which is Russia’s state owned atomic energy company, Vladamir Panov, Special Representative of Rosatom for Arctic Development, said that by 2035, about 250 million tonnes of cargo could be going through the NSR. This would be 184 million tonnes more than in 2024.

The 5,600 km-long NSR touches the Arctic ports of Sabetta, Dudinka, Khatanga, Tiksi and Pevek–all through Russia’s exclusive economic zone. To open up the NSR, Russia is building two additional nuclear-powered ice-breakers, adding to its fleet of seven. The two are said to be much bigger, measuring 568 feet long and 111 feet wide and capable of pushing itself through a 10-feet thick ice sheet.

India is interested in the NSR. “It will add to our energy security,” said Ved Prakash Singh, First Secretary and Head of Economic and Commercial Wing, Embassy of India, Russia, who was one of the speakers at the Atomexpo 2024 session on NSR.

At present, India gets oil and gas and coking coal from the St. Petersburg port, via the Mediterranean sea and Suez canal. However, the alternative route could be St. Petersburg to Vladivostok on the Far Eastern coast of Russia and from there to Chennai.

The problem is, while there is plenty to be brought to India from Vladivostok, there is little to go on the return. The eastern region of Russia is home to just about seven million people, spread over an area larger than India.

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