Russia’s Arctic policy at risk of major collapse

Sabetta is hub for the Yamal LNG project. It is built in cooperation with western partners. (Photo: Atle Staalesen / The Independent Barents Obsever)

Energy projects are put on hold and hyped ambitions for the Northern Sea Route increasingly look doomed. At the same time, the country is frozen out of international Arctic cooperation.

Moscow’s war against Ukraine is having a great toll also on one of the remotest part of the planet. The region that over the past years has been a top priority for the Russian government is now about to face a serious economic setback.

Several of the new oil and gas projects, mines and infrastructure initiatives that until recently have been under development might now come to a grinding halt.

Natural gas company Novatek this week confirmed that it will stop the development of its liquified natural gas projects in the region. It will only complete the first train of the Arctic LNG 2, company representatives told Kommersant.

According to original plans, the project’s first train is to come into production in 2023 and deliver 6,6 million tons of LNG to the market. The project train number two and three that were to be ready in 2024 and 2025 respectively will be postponed.

The announcement comes after French project partner Total made clear that it halts all new investments in Russia. Also, other international oil and gas companies have made similar announcements. Among them are Baker Hughes, Halliburton, and Schlumberger.

Novatek is fully dependent on Western technology to follow up on its major Arctic LNG projects. Both the Yamal LNG and the Arctic LNG are built with foreign equipment provided by companies such as Linde, Siemens, and Baker Hughes.

Ship traffic data indicate that there is still a high level of activity around the Arctic LNG 2 project port of Utrenneye. This week, two nuclear-powered icebreakers escorted cargo vessels to the site.

Novatek has not responded to a request for comment on this report.

A significant number of ships were in late March delivering goods at the Utrenneye Port on the eastern bank of the Ob Bay. (Photo: The Independent Barents Observer)

The new western sanctions against Russia will affect also several other industrial projects. State oil company Rosneft is in the process of developing what is due to become the biggest oil project ever in the Arctic and is dependent on western technology to build both infrastructure and ice-class tankers. Also, the investment basis of the project is now increasingly unclear as project partner Trafigura Group says that it is “reviewing its shareholding in Vostok Oil LLC”.

Vostok Oil includes the building of 13 gas and oil fields in the remote Taymyr tundra and the annual production of more than 100 million tons by 2030.

On the Russian Arctic agenda is also the building of several mines, among them the Syradasaysky coal project in Taymyr. Again, this project is dependent on western tech, at least for the building of ice-class bulk carriers that can export the coal.

Ship traffic data indicate that there is still a high level of activity around the project seaport of Yenisey, despite the difficult ice conditions in the area.

Cargo carrier “Polar King” delivers goods to the new coal port in Yenisey Bay in late March. (Photo: The Independent Barents Observer)

As industrial projects come to a halt, Russia will not be able to meet its ambitious plans for Arctic shipping. The objective set by President Putin in 2018 is the annual shipments of at least 80 million tons of goods on the Northern Sea Route by 2024.

The country’s Minister of the Far East and Arctic Aleksei Chekunkov during a visit to Murmansk in early March told local media that the objectives remain unchanged. But he appears to shut his eyes to the ongoing developments that are about to fully isolate Russia in international relations and trade.

It is also now increasingly unclear whether Russia will be able to meet its plan for nuclear icebreaker construction. The country intends to build a fleet of up to six LK-60 icebreakers in the course of the decade, as well as the super-powerful Lider. But the Baltic and Zvezda shipyards will hardly be able to complete construction without western technology.

In 2018, the Russian government presented a 5-year plan for Arctic developments that included an investment of up to 5.5 trillion rubles by the year 2024 and 13,5 trillion rubles by 2050. That document now appears like nothing but a piece of paper.

In addition to the standstill in its grand industrial projects, Russia is also kicked out of the international bodies of regional cooperation. The country had great expectations from its two-year presidency in the Arctic Council and planned as many as 88 various events.

Nikolai Korchunov is Russia’s Ambassador at Large for the Arctic. (Photo: Roscongress)

It all wrecked with the invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent halt in international Arctic cooperation. On March 4th, the Arctic Council announced that it had decided to “pause all official meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies until further notice”.

The same decision was soon later taken by the Barents Council, as well as other regional cooperation bodies.

Related stories from around the North: 

Arctic: Arctic Economic Council switching to online meeting amidst Russian invasion of Ukraine, Eye on the Arctic

Canada: Russian invasion of Ukraine puts ‘more attention onto the needs of the Arctic’, CBC News

Finland: Finland’s NATO membership decision needs more time, says PM, Yle News

Norway: Nordic countries halt all regional cooperation with Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia’s Arctic LNG project might come to halt, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Swedish customs hand inspecting goods destined for Russia amidst sanctions, Radio Sweden 

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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