New shipping link symbolises developing Arctic economy which can avoid eco-damage, says Putin.
'This is the shortest route between Europe and Asia, and it has become busier in recent years'. Picture: Slava Titov
Climate change is seen as negative by many experts, with Siberia at the forefront of concern that melting permafrost will lead to the release of untold amounts of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane. Yet it is also creating economic opportunities, and one of the most tangible is the increasing use of the Northern Sea Route as a viable transportation link for shipping between Asia and Europe.
Cargo turnover this year via this route, running along the north coast of the Siberian land mass, has already exceeded 2012 levels by 19%, and is expected to more than double next year.
The Kremlin's interest in aiding this development was made clear recently in comments from President Vladimir Putin at a government meeting in the Siberian city of Salekhard, located on the Arctic Circle, on creating modern facilities for the production of liquefied natural gas on the Yamal Peninsula - the Yamal LNG project - and building the Sabetta seaport, which is closely related to this project.
'The Sabetta port should act as a main point of call along the Northern Sea Route,' he said. 'This is the shortest route between Europe and Asia, and it has become busier in recent years. Compared with 2011, the amount of traffic along the Northern Sea Route increased by 53 per cent in 2012, and exceeded 1.26 million tonnes. In 2013, this figure has already reached 1.5 million tonnes. By 2015, volumes are projected to reach 4 million tonnes. The construction of a modern Arctic port would consolidate this trend.'
On top of the world... the Northern Sea Route. Picture: Slava Titov
Developments in the Arctic have been put in sharp focus over the Greenpeace protest which led to the arrest of activists complaining about environmental risks associated with a Gazprom subsidiary's oil platform. 'They are not pirates. But they did try to force entry onto the Prirazlomnaya platform. Our law enforcement authorities did not know who was trying to seize the platform under the aegis of Greenpeace,' he said last week.
Yet the international group remains in detention.
Putin was adamant at a speech to the 3rd International Forum on the Arctic, also in Salekhard, last week that economic exploitation of the region would not lead to ecological damage. 'Russia is carrying out intensive work in the Arctic regions to explore and develop new oil and gas fields and minerals deposits. We are building big transport and energy facilities and reviving the Northern Sea Route,' he said.
'Work in the harsh Arctic environment is very difficult and requires a lot of financial investment and genuinely unique technological solutions. It is clear to us that nature conservation and maintaining a balance between economic activity, human presence, and preserving the natural environment must be key priorities and principles in our work to develop the Arctic.
'This is all the more important given that the Arctic, with its fragile and vulnerable ecosystems and sensitive climate has such an impact on the entire planet's environmental state of health. Today more than ever, the Arctic needs particular care and attention. Russia, where the Far North regions make up almost a third of the country's territory, is conscious of its responsibility for preserving the Arctic's environmental stability.'
Cargo turnover this year via this route, running along the north coast of the Siberian land mass, has already exceeded 2012 levels by 19%, and is expected to more than double next year. Picture: Slava Titov
Putin stressed that under government curbs the 'right to extract oil from deposits in the Arctic region can only go to companies that have the most advanced technology and the financial resources to support such projects'.
He also emphasised that ecological work is reversing pollution that occurred in the Soviet era.
'We will continue our ambitious plan for a major cleanup in the Arctic,' he said. 'Alexandra Land has already been completely cleaned up. Work has already begun this year on Graham Bell Island, and next in line are Hofmann Island, Hayes Island, Rudolf Island and Hooker Island.
He called on regions with Arctic territory to follow the Yamal example in staging clean-ups, for example as was undertaken on Bely Island.
'We plan to extend considerably the network of nature conservation areas in the Arctic region.
'These specially protected natural areas currently make up around 6 per cent of the Russian Arctic, nearly 322,000 square kilometres. Our plan is to increase this area several-fold. We will also expand our efforts to protect the region's wildlife, especially rare species of whales, dolphins and birds.
'We are doing a lot of work to study the Arctic's most famous symbol - the polar bear. We are ready to play an active part in setting up a unified network to monitor polar bear populations, which the Arctic Council is in the process of developing at the moment. The walruses that inhabit the Laptev Sea and the Atlantic's northern waters also deserve our attention. Their populations are dwindling. We hope to stabilise the situation through the special programmes to study these species, which we plan to carry out.'
'Russia is a major Arctic power and is ready for the closest possible partnership through the Arctic Council framework, the Global Environment Fund and the UN Environment Programme, above all in developing modern technology and establishing common environmental standards', Putin said.
In a speech which sought to answer critics, including Greenpeace, of Russia's policies in the Arctic, he vowed 'to do everything possible to make the Arctic in practice a territory of partnership, cooperation and dialogue between countries and between the public at the broadest level'.
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