Analysis and Commentary
Arkady Tishkov
© From personal archive

Prospects for Northern Sea Route Good – Prof. Tishkov

Prof. Arkady Tishkov told Arctic.ru about the need for fantastic glass-covered towns in the Arctic and the prospects for developing the Northern Sea Route.

At Rossiya Segodnya's roundtable forum this past summer, you proposed building towns in the Arctic under a cupola to tackle a population problem. Could you elaborate on this project?

The idea is to create along the Northern Sea Route interdepartmental covered towns with an artificial climate, independent vital-services systems, diversified energy sources, winter gardens and galleries linking comfortable homes and convenient infrastructure. Meteorologists, hydrologists and polar researchers from the Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring, Federal Security Service border guards, Defense Ministry Arctic subunits, Emergency Situations and Civil Defense Ministry rescuers, specialists from the transport and communications ministries, geologists and employees of the natural parks and reserves of the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry, Russian Academy of Sciences researchers, sea port  workers, maintenance and mining company workers, among many others, can live and work here under the same roof, possibly on a duty tour basis, but not struggle to survive at the expense of their health. In all, there should be 10-12 such clusters, with an interest in developing the Arctic and Northern Sea Route economy.

These could be townships modeled after those depicted by science fiction writers as they described earthlings' expansion to the Moon, Mars and Venus. In the 1960s, I worked in an expedition to Yakutia and met young architects who were designing such a town under a glass roof in Aikhala, a diamond producers' settlement. Their project even won some prize or other at a Paris exhibition, but that was almost half a century ago. Why not revisit this idea now? There are projects for such an Arctic town, called Umka. There is a pressing need to create a network of such towns under glass along the Northern Sea Route at all of its key points: Kola, Pechora, Novaya Zemlya, Yamal, Taimyr, Ust-Lena, Yano-Indigirka, Kolyma and Chukotka.

What are the prospects for Russia for the Northern Sea Route development? What's in it for Canada, the United States and other countries?

The prospects for developing the Northern Sea Route are obvious for Russia, our Arctic partners and European and Asian countries that want to use a shorter (almost half the length of going through the Suez Canal) and more economical commercial shipment route. Less fuel and shorter delivery times. In recent years, shipments via the Northern Sea Route have been growing, with 40-70 ships and up to 2 million tons of cargo per season. Nevertheless, in 2014-2015, direct shipments declined somewhat (both by the number of ships and the volume of cargo). Sanctions, oil market fluctuations and weather vagaries are significant factors here. For example, in 2014, ice conditions were less than favorable even during the summer and autumn season.

However, it should not be forgotten that it is the fleet serving our production companies — Gazprom, Lukoil, Rosneft, Norilsk Nickel and Rosshelf, among other — that mainly uses the Northern Sea Route. They transport hydrocarbons and equipment at various sections of the route, mainly in its western part. We are not seeing any significant decline here. On the contrary, as mega projects are carried out on Yamal Peninsula and the Pechora Sea, the traffic intensity in these sections of the Northern Sea Route is increasing.

The prospects for developing the Northern Sea Route are obvious today despite the decline in economic activity and the difficulties of technological cooperation with European companies and the United States. New economic projects for the Russian Arctic are in the offing; there are new deposits, new projects to build ice-class ships and icebreakers, including nuclear-powered ones

What environmental projects are carried out there?

First of all, a program is underway to clean the Arctic of the rubbish accumulated over the past century. The Russian Geographical Society and Natural Resources and Environment Ministry oversee these projects and provide funding for them. Second, an Arctic environmental priority should be the development of a system of protected natural territories, among other things, the creation of new large reserves and national parks. Their aggregate area should be expanded to 20-25 percent, which will ensure the preservation of the fragile Arctic natural environment and the rare species of animals and plants. Third, to ensure the effective operation of the Northern Sea Route, it is essential to restore the ecological monitoring system and provide support to meteorological stations, fixed-site installations monitoring the status of the atmosphere and natural waters. Fourth, the Arctic needs constant supervision and monitoring of rare species of birds and mammals — the polar bear, Atlantic walrus and cetaceans. For example, the Russian Geographical Society plans to conduct in 2018 a comprehensive census of polar bears with the participation of domestic and presumably foreign specialists. Fifth, even amidst sanctions and political confrontation, the level of international cooperation in the Russian Arctic is maintained. Russian researchers collaborate with all Arctic states and in the past several years dozens of new projects have been carried out with China, Japan, South Korea, Germany and the UK. In addition, Norway, the United States and Finland remain in the lead in terms of the number of joint projects in the Russian Arctic. A total of about 200 international projects were underway in the Russian Arctic in 2014-2015.

China plans to become closely involved in developing the Northern Sea Route for economic purposes. Will this lead to a rivalry between the countries?

An economic rivalry is possible and acceptable. China is the most interested party in developing the Northern Sea Route to expand trade turnover with Europe. In addition, China plans to expand its participation in Russian Arctic projects, for example, by investing in a condensate liquefaction plant on Yamal and building new ships and even an icebreaker for its ships to participate in Northern Sea Route convoys, and not pay ice-breaking fees. There are also reports related to China's plans to develop Arctic fishing. These are wide-ranging plans that involve competition and cooperation. Arctic cooperation is more constructive.

How long will the development of the Northern Sea Route continue?

This is not the way to look at it. Even considering that climatic and ice conditions in the Arctic are cyclical (according to various estimates, there are 30-60-year cycles) and that after the global warming, we are in for a cold spell and the return of massive Arctic ice toward Eurasian shores, powerful icebreakers and ice-class ships will make it possible to lead ships and maintain transport operations on the Northern Sea route even amid unfavorable ice conditions. The use of some of its sections will expand when the construction of a railway line on Yamal and the central part of the Arctic reaches the sea and sea transport and transshipment volumes will grow. My forecast is that the development of the Northern Sea Route will continue regardless of the development of hydrocarbon deposits. The Arctic transport route also has other purposes and functions; for example, Arctic tourism, cargo transit, deliveries to northern areas, and so on. It is desirable that the creation of coastal infrastructure, new protected natural territories and a modern Arctic fleet keep pace with this. The Arctic is waiting!