Investment Portal of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation

A trillion-rouble plan

Russia celebrates the 90th anniversary of the Chief Directorate of the North Sea Route with new mega projects

11 december 2022

In the summer of 1932, an expedition on the Sibiryakov icebreaker led by Otto Schmidt became the first to complete a voyage from Arkhangelsk to the Bering Strait in a single navigation season. After the expedition, the USSR's top leadership received a report saying that the North Sea Route could play a prominent role in shaping the country's industry. For that to happen, they needed to set up an organisation that would develop transport infrastructure and deal with any issues related to the Arctic transport corridor, from the construction of ports to the creation of hospitals for the indigenous peoples of the North.

In December 1932, the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR established the Chief Directorate of the North Sea Route (Glavsevmorput) with Otto Schmidt as its first leader. Glavsevmorput became the centre of all processes related to the North Sea Route and played a critical role in the first stage of the Arctic's industrial development.

The anniversary of Glavsevmorput was the main topic of several events at the 12th Arctic: Present and Future International Forum held on 8 and 9 December in St. Petersburg. One of them was the conference 90 Years of Glavsevmorput. Past Experiences at the Service of the Future.

ROSATOM's special representative for Arctic development, Vladimir Panov, talked about how mega projects such as the world's largest liquefied gas production cluster by Novatek or the development of the new oil province Vostok Oil would determine the future of the North Sea Route.

"Russian companies are demonstrating steady growth. This year, the cargo turnover of companies implementing projects in the NSR waters is projected to grow by 800,000 tonnes compared to 2021," said Vladimir Panov.

Aleksey Chekunkov, the Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, emphasised that the North Sea Route had already become a major water artery: "We have seen almost 32 mn tonnes of cargo transported this year. By the end of 2022, that number should grow to 34 mn tonnes." For comparison, the record cargo traffic along the North Sea Route during the Soviet period was registered in 1987 and amounted to mere 6.5 mn tonnes. Today, the plan is to reach 80 mn tonnes by 2024 and 150 mn tonnes by 2030.

To provide the growing cargo traffic with the necessary infrastructure, the government has adopted the first-ever strategic plan for developing the North Sea Route up to 2035. It provides for the creation of 12 port terminals and the Northern Latitudinal Railway-1.

The plan will be carried out by three parties: the Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East, Rosatom State Corporation and the main shippers, i.e. the companies engaged in oil and LNG production in the Arctic.

To fulfil its part of the obligations, Rosatom State Corporation established the Chief Directorate of the North Sea Route Federal State Budgetary Enterprise on 1 August 2022. The new Glavsevmorput, created 90 years after its accomplished predecessor, will have to solve equally ambitious tasks.

However, when ramping up freight traffic, it is essential not to harm the fragile Arctic nature. 

"The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources should determine the criteria for navigation along the North Sea Route. Those criteria should be very stringent — perhaps the most stringent in the world, as the consequences of an oil spill in the Northern seas would be incomparable to, say, the impact of a similar incident in the Gulf of Mexico. The environment comes first. Everything else is secondary," stressed Sergey Ivanov, special representative of the President of the Russian Federation for environmental protection, ecology and transport.

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