Putin tells Xi: We will connect Kola Bay with Persian Gulf

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping interacting during a welcoming ceremony at the Third Belt and Road Forum in Beijing on October 17, 2023. (Photo by Sergei Savostyanov/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The war president that is ready to spend one third of his state budget on national security tells Chinese President Xi Jinping that Russia is developing grand infrastructure connections towards the East.

Putin, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes, on Tuesday arrived in Beijing for participation in Xi Jinping’s high-profile Third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation.

A group photo taken during the event shows more than 25 state leaders, all of them from authoritarian-style countries. In addition, representatives of at least 100 more countries are reported to be in town.

Infrastructure, trade and transportation

In the conference back rooms, the Russians are likely to have raised security and military issues with the Chinese, but in the official part of the forum it was infrastructure, trade and transportation that was on the agenda.

For ten years, China has eagerly lobbied its Belt and Road initiative and invested billions in infrastructure projects across the world.

Also Russia is part of China’s grand masterplan, and Moscow’s war against Ukraine and its crippling international isolation is making Russia increasingly dependent on Beijing.

China is today Russia’s largest trade partner, and exchanges between the countries are expected to exceed $200 billion this year.

Russia pivots east 

Judging from Putin’s speech at the forum, Russia will in the years to come make significant steps to integrate with asian partners. Railways were highlighted, and Putin underlined that a north-south connection between Arctic and Baltic seaports and ports on the coast of the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean is under development.

“On the entire connection from our northern city of Murmansk to the Iranian Bander-Abbas will, according to our specialists, be a seamless railway line,” Putin said.

The state leader did not mentioned, however, that the projected railway connection that is to run through the Caucasus region will be far harder to materialise following the recent war over Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia’s increasingly troublesome relationship with Moscow.

Putin told the Forum that Russia is developing also several more transport connections from the Arctic, among them the Northern Latitudinal Passage that includes a railway line to the northern parts of the Yamal Peninsula, as well as a railway from the northern parts of the far eastern Yakutia region.

“All these transport corridors from the North to the South […] open opportunities to directly unite and integrate the Northern Sea Route with huge logistic hubs in the south of our continent, on the coast of the Indian and Pacific Oceans.”

Arctic absent from Xi’s speech 

Chinese investments in the Russian North have indeed increased over the past years, but Beijing’s level of engagement in the Arctic still remains rather modest. In his speech at the Forum, Xi Jinping did not with a word mention the Arctic.

That could ultimately change. During Xi’s visit to Moscow in March this year, it was decided to establish a joint Russian-Chinese working group on the development of the Northern Sea Route.

Also during this year’s visit, Putin highlighted his interest in getting foreign investments for the far northern shipping route.

“With regards to the Northern Sea Route, Russia does not only offer partners to actively use its transport potential. Even more: we invite interested countries in the direct participation in its development and we are ready to provide reliable ice escort, communications and supply,” he said and explained that year-round shipping on the route will start already in 2024.

“Already from next year, navigation for ice-class cargo ships will be open year-round on the whole Northern Sea Route,” he underlined.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: CSIS warning Inuit leaders about covert foreign investment in Arctic, documents show, CBC News

China: Satellite imagery reveals construction progress on new Chinese Antarctic base, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Danish policy prioritizes low-conflict Arctic amidst Russian tensions, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Svalbard’s travails in a changing Arctic, Blog by Marc Lanteigne

Russia: National security chief says Russia must bolster its Arctic military, The Independent Barents Observer

United Kingdom: Russia’s growing dependence on China altering dynamics in Arctic, UK committee hears, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Russian, Chinese vessels near Alaska reminder of ‘new era of aggression’: Senators, Eye on the Arctic

Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer

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

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