Freight turnover along Russia’s Northern Sea Route (NSR) is projected to reach 80 million tons in the coming year, according to Aleksey Chekunkov, Minister for the Development of the Far East and the Arctic. Despite the challenges posed by sanctions affecting shipbuilding projects, Chekunkov highlighted the unprecedented growth and development of the NSR within Russia’s exclusive economic zone in Arctic waters.
Since 2015, the freight turnover through the NSR has increased eightfold, reaching 34 million tons in 2022. Chekunkov expects ongoing infrastructure initiatives to further bolster this turnover, pushing it beyond 80 million tons by 2024. Speaking at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, he described the NSR as a “full-fledged international artery” and emphasized its crucial role in global transportation, including the shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to various countries, even those currently deemed unfriendly.
The first eight months of 2023 have witnessed a 1.5% growth in cargo shipping along the NSR, amounting to 23 million tons. Chekunkov emphasized that the corridor should not be viewed as Russia’s response to Western sanctions, but rather as a global route for transporting goods, both those currently produced and those slated for future production.
Chekunkov pointed to specific projects that highlight the necessity of the NSR. The Arctic LNG 2 project, which operates a floating liquefaction plant, is expected to produce 10 million tons of LNG annually. To transport this gas through the icy Arctic waters, Russia requires ice-class LNG carriers, as well as the necessary ports, navigation systems, and control mechanisms. Additionally, the Vostok Oil project, alongside coal and ore production ventures, are expanding rapidly and anticipated to produce 100 million tons by 2026 and 200 million tons per year by 2030-2031. These ambitious initiatives underline the importance of the NSR and the associated infrastructure required to support them.
Chekunkov addressed the issue of Western sanctions, acknowledging their impact on shipbuilding projects. However, he emphasized that Russia has successfully substituted most of the imported equipment and technologies with domestic alternatives. The government has allocated 18 billion rubles (approximately $187 million) for the import substitution of shipboard equipment, and close to 100% of icebreaker production is now localized.
Furthermore, Russia has received numerous proposals from foreign partners, notably India, to participate in its shipbuilding projects. Chekunkov highlighted India’s interest in cooperating with Russia in utilizing the NSR as an alternative transportation corridor and participating in joint shipbuilding projects, including non-nuclear icebreakers. While the NSR infrastructure will remain of Russian origin, technology and goods may be sourced from friendly states, potentially expanding cooperation and investments in the Arctic region.
In conclusion, Russia’s Northern Sea Route continues to experience remarkable growth and development, with freight turnover expected to surpass 80 million tons next year. Despite facing challenges from Western sanctions, Russia has managed to substitute imported equipment and technologies, while also attracting foreign partners for shipbuilding projects. The NSR plays a vital role in global transportation, supporting the shipment of goods such as LNG and facilitating the expansion of various production ventures in the Far East and Arctic regions.