Russia’s Sergei Shoigu lines up a circumpolar cruise

Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (Mikhail Metzel / AP)
A file photo of Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu. (Mikhail Metzel / AP)

The Russian defence minister intends to organise a historical circumpolar voyage that includes visits to all Arctic archipelagos.

Shoigu presented his new project during this week’s prize award ceremony of the Russian Geographical Society. Several of Russia’s leading researchers and explorers were awarded for their expeditions, and the Northern Fleet itself got the most prestigious prize for its voyage across the Northern Sea Route in 2020.

The defence minister, who is also President of the Society, made clear that his military men will in no way reduce efforts to explore far northern waters.

“Before us are a great number of beautiful projects,” he underlined and explained to the audience that an expedition around the North Pole now is on the agenda.

Reportedly, no such expedition has ever been undertaken.

The plan builds on proposals from Frederik Paulsen, the Swedish businessman who is also a member of the Geographical Society. During a supervisory board meeting in April this year, Paulsen underlined that Russia should initiate an international circumpolar voyage that includes visits to all the archipelagos of the Arctic.

Trip likely to occur during Arctic Council chairmanship

According to Paulsen, who has made a fortune with his company Ferring Pharmaceuticals, the cruise should start in Murmansk and visit Franz Josef Land, Severnaya Zemlya, New Siberian Islands, the Wrangle Island, as well as the Canadian Banks Island, Queen Charlotte Islands and Ellesmere Island. In addition comes Norway’s Svalbard archipelago and Greenland, he explained.

Paulsen presented the same initiative in the Geographical Society’s supervisory council meeting in 2019.

The expedition is likely to be organised in connection with Russia’s chairmanship period in the Arctic Council. The country took over the two-year rotating chair in May 2021.

The initiatives of Frederik Paulsen have over several years won praise from the highest level in the Kremlin. In 2008, the businessman was awarded Putin’s Order of Friendship, and in 2014 he got the Geographical Society’s silver medal for extraordinary initiatives.

Paulsen is also nurturing good relations with Leonid Michelson and several more of Russia’s most powerful people.

Previous meetings with Russian Geographical Society

The businessman is known not only as one of the richest men in Sweden, but also as as participant in several expeditions in Russia. In 2007, he descended to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean together with explorers Artur Chilingarov and Mike McDowell, and in 2010 he and François Bernard were the first to cross the Bering Strait from America to Russia in an ultralight aircraft.

Paulsen has in previous presidium meetings in the Russian Geographical Society proposed a number of extraordinary expeditions. In 2019, he suggested that Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov escorted by nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy conduct a unique voyage north of Greenland and through the Nares Strait, a transcript from the meeting reads.

He has also proposed to organize an ice camp on the North Pole that can host international visits, including delegations from the Arctic Council states, and he wants Russia during its Arctic Council chairmanship to host an international conference devoted to the 160 years anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen’s birth.

The businessman is now believed to reside in Switzerland.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: DNA confirmed identity of HMS Erebus engineer — and raises more questions in Franklin Expedition mystery in Arctic Canada, CBC News

China: China’s new icebreaker completes first Arctic expedition, The Independent Barents Observer

Greenland: Expedition discovers what they believe is world’s northernmost island off Greenland, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden to lead major Arctic expedition, Radio Sweden

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

For more news from the Barents region visit The Independent Barents Observer.

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