Russia hands world’s largest and most powerful nuclear-powered icebreaker to State Atomic Energy Corporation

On Friday, Russia’s first nuclear-powered icebreaker of Project 22220, known as Sibir, was handed over to the state atomic energy company Rosatom for operation.

“On December 24, the signing ceremony of the law on the delivery and acceptance of the first serial universal nuclear-powered icebreaker of project 22220 Sibir was held at the Baltic Shipyard, St. Petersburg,” the company said in a statement.

Once the necessary documents have been completed and the preparations for the winter-spring navigation are completed, the icebreaker will leave St. Petersburg for the port of Murmansk, according to the statement.

The vessel’s keel was laid on May 26, 2015 and the icebreaker was floated on September 22, 2017.

The Ural, Yakutia and Chukotka nuclear-powered universal icebreakers are also under construction at the Baltic Shipyard, all named after Russian regions.

Project 22220 nuclear icebreakers are the most powerful and largest in the world to date. The ships secure Russia’s leadership position in the Arctic. The icebreaker is 173.3 meters (568.6 feet) long and 34 meters wide with a displacement of 33,500 tons.

Russian nuclear powered icebreaker – Wikipedia

Can Russia’s Arctic game plan surpass that of the United States in the Indo-Pacific?

As global headlines continue to focus on Russia’s “aggressive attitudes” against Ukraine, Moscow seems to be slowly and steadily playing its geopolitical game in the Arctic, stressing the importance of accessibility to China’s ports. the Arctic and further developing the shipping lanes of the North Sea. Route (NSR), connecting the Pacific and the Atlantic.

With China’s active support in this game, Russia is now courting Japan and South Korea, with the obvious aim of weakening US plans to build the Indo-Pacific.

Luckily, the Russian game plan was given new impetus with the recent week-long Suez Canal traffic jam that began on March 23, when the very large Golden Ever Given class container ship (weighing 250,000 tonnes ), en route from Malaysia to the Netherlands, ran aground across the tracks, resulting in massive ship accommodation along the two embankments of the waterway.

It is said that the blockage costs the global economy an estimated $ 9.6 billion every day. In addition, as the Suez Canal serves as the main transportation route for oil shipped from the Middle East to the European Union and the United States, the blockade of tankers temporarily raised global oil prices and created uncertainty. among investors.

The northern sea route

Russia defines the Northern Sea Route as a shipping route from the Kara Sea to the Pacific Ocean, specifically along the Russian arctic coast of the Kara Gates Strait between the Barents Sea and the Kara Sea, along the Siberia, to the Bering Strait.

The Northern Sea Route has a number of crossings and alternative routes between Novaya Zemlya and the Bering Strait.

The NSR is expected to bring enormous strategic and commercial advantages to Russia. For example, compared to the Suez Canal route, estimated navigation via the NSR will reduce the distance between Shanghai and Rotterdam (Europe’s largest commercial port in the Netherlands) by almost 2,800 nautical miles or 22 %. This route is also likely to reduce transportation costs by 30 to 40 percent.

Likewise, while a container ship from Tokyo to Hamburg (Germany’s main port city) sails for around 48 days via the Suez Canal, it can travel the same distance of around 35 days via the NSR.

Russian analysts say that while about 12% of world maritime trade passes through the Suez Canal and although this proportion cannot be ignored, the route should not be made essential; the world cannot be too dependent on Suez and must have alternative paths.

Of course, there is an alternative Israel-UAE canal plan to connect the Israeli port of Eilat on the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, but it will prove to be very expensive. According to experts, digging canals along about 250 kilometers (155 miles) at the eastern end of the Sinai Peninsula cutting hills several hundred meters high will require an investment of more than $ 100 billion.

On the other hand, the Suez Canal is 193 km long. In fact, Egypt, which owns the Suez Canal, can build a new canal parallel to the Suez Canal or expand the existing one at a third of the cost of the Israeli-Emirati project.

Citing the above factor, Russian analysts like Alexei Zubets, director of the Institute for Socio-Economic Research of the Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation, argue that although the Suez Canal was up to now the most reliable transportation artery in the world, its reputation is shaken, giving opportunities to the NSR.

Climate change challenges

In recent times, Moscow has also been minimizing uncertainties related to the seasonal state of the north polar ice sheet and the Arctic transit capabilities of shippers. He says global climate change has gradually boosted the competitiveness of the NSR.

According to a Russian study, the year 2020 broke a new temperature record, and the Arctic ice sheet has shrunk five to seven times compared to the 1980s. As a result, the area of ​​ice cover in the ocean Arctic would have shrunk to an all-time high of 26,000 square kilometers last year.

Russian Arktika Yamal Class Nuclear Icebreaker Leads Way for Ship (4000x2650): r / WarshipPorn
Russia’s Arktika Yamal-class nuclear icebreaker clears way for ship

This, in turn, made the NSR increasingly seaworthy, with less need for icebreakers, of which Russia, incidentally, has the largest fleet in the world. Regardless, almost all of today’s merchant ships are well-equipped with icebreaker capabilities, allowing them to make their own voyages on the Northern Sea Route, the Russians claim.

They highlight how a Russian ship carrying LNG from Yamal, one of Russia’s largest natural gas fields on its north coast, to China, made its return trip between January 27 and February 19 of the last year, in the middle of winter and without the need for icebreaker assistance.

They also say that despite the hesitation of Western shipping companies, the world’s largest container shipping company, the Danish company Maersk, started using this route three years ago.

China’s interest in The northern sea route

Likewise, China, one of the first countries to try this route for commercial purposes, has been sending an increasing number of ships to Europe via the Northern Sea Route since 2013. Japan and South Korea, two of the region’s main industrial countries, have also started using the northern route.

In short, the Russians maintain that the NSR is no longer an obstacle for maritime transport and that it has become more and more attractive. They are convinced that according to President Putin’s plan, announced in 2018, the average annual volume of freight transported via the Northern Sea Route will be 80 million tonnes by 2024 and could reach full capacity by around 2030. .

Obviously, as is the case with Egypt due to its Suez Canal, Russia will gain the most once the NSR is fully functional throughout the year, and not just during the months of ‘been as is mainly the case at the moment. It will attract foreign investment to the Arctic region which is said to contain 13 percent of the world’s untapped oil, 30 percent natural gas and 20 percent liquid gas, not to mention other minerals and rich bioresources.

With Russia’s growing ties to China, it’s no surprise that Beijing has shown great interest not only in the development of the Arctic region, but also in the NSR. With the incorporation of the Polar Silk Road into the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) network, China is rapidly becoming the main non-Arctic player in the region.

Contributing to the development of commercial navigation in the North, China aims to diversify its trade routes and to connect with the Arctic countries by a network of maritime corridors through the NSR. This will bring it closer to European and American markets and decrease its vulnerabilities in the Indian Ocean and make the Strait of Malacca all the less vital.

Will the Indo-Pacific lose its relevance?

In other words, a fully functioning NSR can shift the strategic balance between the Indian and Arctic Oceans, making the availability of oil and gas cheaper for major consumers in Europe and East Asia ( China, Japan and South Korea). Once that happens, the Indian Ocean, or for that matter the Indo-Pacific, may have reduced global relevance.

However, the above scenario is still in the realm of possibility due to three questions for which there are no easy answers:

First, the NSR will be economically attractive provided that there is good local infrastructure, for the development of which Russia does not have sufficient funds of tens of billions of dollars (according to conservative estimates). Will China help Russia in this area, without attaching any conditions?

Second, won’t the extension of US sanctions against Russia make the Bering Strait, which physically separates Russia from the United States, a dangerous bottleneck and thus minimize the trade competitiveness of the United States? the NSR?

Third, is it safe to make the NSR a major transportation artery in a region of ecological tragedies due to melting permafrost in the Far North?

  • Veteran author and journalist Prakash Nanda is Chairman of the EurAsian Times Editorial Board and has commented on politics, foreign policy and strategic affairs for nearly three decades. A former National Fellow of the Indian Council for Historical Research and recipient of the Seoul Peace Prize Fellowship, he is also a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies. CONTACT: [email protected]
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  • Originally posted here
  • With contributions from the Sputnik press agency

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