By Paul Goble
Vladimir Putin on Thursday told key ministers and business leaders that he wants Russian-flagged ships to have the exclusive right to move oil and gas across the Northern Sea Route and is prepared to consider extending a similar ban on non-Russian shipping to “other sea routes of our country.”
Specifically, he said he wants to offer “ships sailing under the Russian flag the exclusive right to carry and store hydrocarbons along the Northern Sea Route,” an action that will “allow the growth of the amount of such shipments, strengthen the position of domestic shipping companies and create additional opportunities for the renewal of the fleets belong to them” (kremlin.ru/events/president/news/56112 and thebarentsobserver.com/en/industry-and-energy/2017/11/putin-nationalizes-arctic-petroleum-shipments).
Putin added that “a corresponding draft law is now being considered in the State Duma,” one that he said will be “adopted in a short time.” And then he added that he was aware that “there are proposals to extend this norm to other waterways of our country.”
The Kremlin leader’s declaration puts Russia on a possible collision course with China and other countries interested in using the Northern Sea Route and makes it likely that they will explore routes further from the Russian coast in order to continue to make use of it (asia.nikkei.com/magazine/20170615/Politics-Economy/Six-centuries-later-China-rekindles-its-Arctic-ambitions?page=1 and thebarentsobserver.com/en/arctic/2017/08/chinese-icebreaker-navigates-across-central-arctic).
But more even than that, Putin’s words set the stage for new clashes between Moscow with its expansive claims of control over much of the Arctic and other Arctic powers both traditional and on the rise.