Putin’s grip on Europe slips: Arctic ice melt could slash Russian control of trade routes

Russia: West needs to be prepared to confront Putin says expert

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In as little as two decades’ time, parts of the Arctic once covered in ice year-round could see that ice vanish for months due to the warming of the Earth. And while the impacts of this ice melt are expected to be disastrous in many aspects, there is perhaps one positive effect. That is because the plummeting levels of the ice could expose new routes that bypass the Northern Sea Route, which is controlled by Russia.

This would also allow for more “eco-friendly” shipping, researchers have said.

Climate experts at Brown University, who worked with a legal scholar at the University of Maine School of Law, conducted a study which revealed how Russia’s power could start to decline.

The researchers used computer modelling to find out the outcomes of global actions to try and prevent climate change from worsening in the coming years.

They based projections on four emissions scenarios, from high levels of emissions down to 2.7°F (1.5°C) of warming.

The results indicated that climate change will likely expose a number of new routes through international waters by 2065, unless world leaders manage to limit warming to 2.7°F over the next 43 years.

In this scenario, projections indicated that the likelihood of a navigable season outside Russian waters would be boosted by nearly 30 percent.

This skyrocketed to 99 percent by 2065 under the highest emissions scenario.

But the experts hammered home that Arctic ice melt is still a worrying prospect.

The lead author of the study, Professor Amanda Lynch at Brown University, said: “There’s no scenario in which melting ice in the Arctic is good news.

“But the unfortunate reality is that the ice is already retreating, these routes are opening up.

“And we need to start thinking critically about the legal, environmental and geopolitical implications

Study co-author Charles Norchi, director of the Centre for Oceans and Coastal Law at Maine Law, said that these implications could be significant, particularly for trade and global politics.

Since 1982, under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Arctic coastal states have been given authority over primary shipping routes.

Article 234 of this convention states that countries whose coastlines are near Arctic shipping routes can regulate the route’s maritime traffic to allow for “the prevention, reduction and control of marine pollution from vessels”.

According to Prof Nori, Russia has been exploiting Article 234 for its own economic and political gain for decades.

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For instance, one Russian law states that all vessels passing through the Northern Sea Route must be piloted by Russians.

Passing vessels are also required to pay tolls and give prior notice in advance if they plan to use the route.

Because of this, major shipping companies often opt for alternative routes like Suez and Panama canals, which are longer but are usually the cheaper option.

But because of the Arctic ice melt, Russia could see its grip on Arctic routes decline.

Prof Nori explained: “The Russians will, I’m sure, continue to invoke Article 234, which they will attempt to back up with its might.

“But they will be challenged by the international community because Article 234 will cease to be applicable if there’s no ice-covered area for most of the year.

“Not only that, but with melting ice, shipping will move out of Russian territorial waters and into international waters.

“If that happens, Russia can’t do much, because the outcome is driven by climate change and shipping economics.”

The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

But Russia may also be able to take advantage of the commercial shipping opportunities along the Northern Sea Route, which could see its goods shipped to Europe at a faster pace once the ice melts.

Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev said: “The Arctic is a strategic territory for Russia. It gives us a whole host of new possibilities. We must master it.”

But the Kremlin is not waiting around, and has launched a project to build new nuclear-powered icebreakers to destroy drifting ice, which can be hazardous for shipping.

Alexei Chekunkov, Russia’s Minister for Arctic development, told Bloomberg: “We believe navigation can be made year-round and we’re not waiting until it happens climate-wise.

“We’re building the most powerful fleet of nuclear icebreakers in the world.”

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