Russia is trying to build huge icebreakers for domination in the Arctic
Issued on: Changed:
Saint Petersburg (AFP)
At the historic Baltic Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, cranes hover over the gleaming Neva while hundreds of workers build four nuclear-powered icebreakers.
Carried by a Russian flag and named after the country’s northern regions, the giant ships are designed to secure Moscow’s dominance over the melting Arctic.
Russia has managed to become a leading power in the region where Moscow was able to develop a new shipping route due to the receding ice cover.
President Vladimir Putin has given the warming region priority and has invested heavily in the so-called North Sea Route, which enables ships to reach Asian ports up to 15 days faster than via the traditional Suez Canal route.
Transit in the Eastern Arctic usually ends in November, but Moscow hopes the icebreakers will help it use the route – which is becoming more accessible due to climate change – year round.
The ships begin their voyage at the imperial Baltic shipyard, the birthplace of all Soviet nuclear icebreakers except for one – the Lenin, which has now been converted into a museum and berths in the arctic port of Murmansk.
The four new ships “Sibir”, “Ural”, “Yakutia” and “Chukhotka” will be stationed there.
Kirill Myadzyuta, site manager at the shipyard, said the ships are a “big step forward” in Arctic development.
The ships are designed to withstand extreme weather conditions in the far north, are 52 meters high and 173 meters long and can break through ice up to 2.8 meters thick.
Russia did not save to reap the benefits of the Arctic.
Each ship commissioned by the state nuclear power company Rosatom costs more than 340 million euros.
It will require more than 1,000 people to build and will take five to seven years to complete.
– ‘We need these ships’ –
With a view of the city’s historic skyline, workers cavort on the “Sibir” (Siberia), which is due to leave the shipyard at the end of the year.
The other ships are expected to join the Rosatom fleet in Murmansk in 2022, 2024 and 2026.
“It is a very good ship,” said the future captain of the Sibir, Oleg Shapov, who was stationed in Saint Petersburg to follow the final construction phase of the ship.
Shapov said the Sibir will be an improved version of its predecessor – the Arktika, which was inaugurated with great pomp last year.
“We really need these ships in the Arctic,” said Shapov, who is preparing to hire crew members for the Sibir.
According to Leonid Grigoriyev of the World Economics Department at Moscow School of Economics, icebreakers will be a crucial factor in Russia’s use of the Arctic.
While Russia is already using the North Sea route “intensively”, says Grigoryev, the eastern Arctic is still “completely freezing and would not be usable all year round without the icebreakers”.
The expansion of the Northern Sea Route is intended in particular to simplify the delivery of oil and gas to Southeast Asia by connecting the Atlantic and Pacific via the Arctic in record time.
Global competition for navigation routes in the Arctic has increased and tensions, particularly between the United States, Russia and China, have intensified.
At the inauguration of Arktika last year, Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin said the icebreaker fleet would “ensure Russian superiority in the Arctic”.
© 2021 AFP