Northern Sea Route turns 90

Northern Sea Route turns 90

September 22, 2022

Experts spoke about the history and prospects of the main Arctic life road.

#ARCTIC. #SIBERIA. THIS IS TAIMYR. In 2022, the shortest route between the European part of Russia and the Far East – the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which is often called the Arctic life road, celebrates its 90th anniversary.


In 1932, the expedition of Otto Schmidt on the Alexander Sibiryakov icebreaker was able to pass from Arhangelsk to the Bering strait in one navigation. At the same time, the Northern Sea Route Main Directorate was created. Those events are considered the beginning of the NSR creation, but explorers investigated the Arctic expanses even earlier, according to the portal

“The Pomors plied the Barents and Kara seas as early as the 12th century, and the development of the North-Eastern Passage, as they called it, began in the 16th century. At the same time, the idea of ​​the shortest route from Europe to China and India was clearly formulated by the Russian diplomat Dmitry Gerasimov. Since then, dozens of expeditions have been sent to the Arctic. In 1879, Adolf Nordenskiöld was able to follow the full route from West to East, and in 1910-1915 the Russian Hydrographic Expedition repeated it in the opposite direction. In 1932, a new era began, when through flights along the Northern Sea Route became almost regular”, said researcher Ilya Rud.

The 1930s were a breakthrough for the NSR. In 1933–1934, an expedition took place on the Chelyuskin non-icebreaking class steamship. In 1934, the West-East flight on the Litke ice cutter, in 1937–1940 – the heroic drift of the Georgy Sedov icebreaker’s crew and the Papanin’s North Pole-1 station in 1937-1938 went down into the history.

During the Great Patriotic War, the Pacific Fleet warships were carried along the Northern Sea Route to the Barents sea. The Northern Fleet sea convoys protected the sea route.

The construction of the first nuclear icebreaker Lenin, which began its polar watch in 1960, was an important stage in the Northern Sea Route post-war development. Following the Lenin, a whole line of nuclear-powered icebreakers appeared, in 1978 regular sea transportation began in caravans of two icebreakers and several cargo ships.

Today, more than 20 million Russians live in the Far North, and the NSR is becoming a truly national unified transport communication.

Tasks and plans

The President of the Russian Federation designated the NSR development as a priority national goal – the Russian Federation Arctic zone development strategy until 2035 was adopted, a plan for the Northern Sea Route development until 2035, according to which about 1.8 trillion rubles will be invested in the NSR infrastructure over 13 years.

The key indicators are to ensure a cargo turnover of 80 million tons by 2024 and regular year-round navigation by 2030. The cargo flow in 2030 should be 150 million tons and 220 million tons – by 2035.

Arctic flotilla

By 2030, Rosatom state corporation plans to significantly change the Russian icebreakers fleet. Of the four currently operating nuclear icebreakers on the NSR route, only the 50 Years of Victory with an extended service life will remain. It will be supplemented by seven 22220Project icebreakers, one Leader icebreaker, the most powerful in the world, being built at the Zvezda Far East shipyard, and four non-nuclear fossil-fuel icebreakers. Thus, in the Russian Arctic in eight years there will be 13 icebreakers.

According to Rosatom, it is necessary to build from 80 to 130 ice-class cargo ships. Therefore, the possibility of building a large-capacity shipyard on Kotlin island is being considered now.

The state corporation does not exclude that all this will reduce the time to overcome the NSR from two weeks to ten days.

One window principle

On August 1, 2022, the Northern Sea Route Main Directorate federal state budgetary institution was established as part of Rosatom, and now the state corporation concentrates the main powers to manage navigation in the NSR water area.

Currently, work is underway to create a single digital platform as part of a large NSR ecosystem. All the necessary information will be accumulated using satellite constellation, aviation, including drones, and data received directly from ships.

NSTC or second Suez?

Previously, experts expected that the NSR would turn into an international transport corridor by 2035, competing even with the Suez canal. However, the global geopolitical crisis has made serious adjustments. Obviously, in the near future we will have to rely mainly on our own forces and reserves.

“It is futile to expect serious international transit from the Northern Sea Route. In the best case, foreign goods will be delivered to us through it. The NSR should be considered primarily from the point of view of cabotage domestic transportation – and this, by the way, will have the most favorable impact on the development of all northern territories, as well as on strengthening economic ties between the west and east of the country”, says the Arctic Development Project Office’s Information and Analytical Center’s director Igor Pavlovsky.

Out of 35 million tons of cargo transported along the NSR in 2021, only two million tons were in international transit. In 2022, according to experts, it will total 200 000 tons. In this situation, we should rather talk about the transformation of the NSR into a full-fledged Northern Sea Transport Corridor (NSTC).

Administratively, the Northern Sea Route length – from the Kara Gates to the Provideniya bay – is about 5600 kilometers. Historically, it has always been considered and developed as a single transport communication along the Arctic ocean, and sometimes from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok. In this case, the length of the so-called NSTC or the Great Northern Sea Route exceeds 14 thousand kilometers.

The Ministry for the Development of the Far East has already developed a program to subsidize Arctic flights in the amount of 560 million rubles.

This year, the world’s only nuclear-powered lighter carrier Sevmorput will test its usual route Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky – Murmansk – St. Petersburg at new preferential rates.

Recall that Russia is reviving the program of drifting stations in the Arctic. Experts told how warming affects shipping in the Arctic.

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Text: Anzhelika Stepanova, Photo: Denis Kozhevnikov and the Nornickel Polar Transport Branch’s press service

September 22, 2022

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