It was used to supply Soviet frontier posts and military intelligence bases in the Arctic Ocean with equipment (sometimes, these intelligent bases were “camouflaged” as meteorological stations). Deep in the Arctic Ocean, submarines, equipped with nuclear missiles, were defending the Soviet Union’s north from possible enemy attacks.
However, with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Northern Sea Route lost its military significance. Very quickly, cargo transporting via the Arctic Ocean stopped as well.
Today, the policy of Russia is not aimed at any military confrontation with the West. Russia’s current authorities intend to restore the Northern Sea Rout – but only as a route of peaceful trade.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Russian magazine “Arktika i Sever” (“Arctic and the North”) Yuri Lukin says:
“The revival of the Northern Sea Route started in 2009. The year 2011 saw a record amount of cargoes transported by this route. In 2009, foreign merchant ships started to go through Russia’s northern waters. First, there were 3 ships of the German company “Beluga”. Then, there were several ships that delivered Russian ore minerals to China and Russian oil to several countries, and several trial trips to deliver fish from the Far East to St. Petersburg. This is already a good start.”
However, the idea of Russia’s authorities is not only to use the Northern Sea Route for transporting goods, but also to make it a part of Russia’s program for developing the riches of the Arctic.
Deputy Director of the St. Petersburg Institute of the Arctic and the Antarctic Alexander Danilov says:
“Several Russian projects of developing the riches of the Arctic will already start working very soon. Extraction of oil will soon start at the deposit of Prirazlomnaya in the Pechora region. The gas and oil deposits of the Yamal Peninsula are also being developed, and the gas and oil that will be extracted there will be transported by sea. There is also a plan to build a sea port in a place called Sabetta on the Yamal Peninsula and a plant that would liquefy natural gas near this port.”
“The Arctic Shelf is becoming one of the main sources of oil and gas for Russia,” Mr. Danilov continues, “and in such a situation, Russia cannot do without a route via the Arctic Ocean. A law concerning the status of the Northern Sea Route has already been adopted in Russia, and the administration of this route has been formed.”
The development of the Arctic will, of course, demand new human resources, and Russia’s authorities now have to think about how they may attract young people to work in the North.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Russia has the world’s best fleet of atomic icebreakers. It has been producing icebreakers for as long as about 50 years, and has a rich experience in using them. Russia has all the necessary potential and every reason to revive the Northern Sea Route.