Norway doubts the economic feasibility of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and will also look into its compliance with environmental standards, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Norway Ine Marie Erickson Sereide told Russian outlet Izvestia.
She noted that she has no idea how Russia will be able to ensure the safety of shipping in Arctic waters along the entire route.
The Russian Embassy in Oslo told Izvestia that Moscow does not plan to use the NSR together with Norway, since the route is considered in Russian territorial waters. At the same time, Moscow is open for dialogue with all international partners along the Northern Sea Route.
“Norway, as far as one can judge, is eyeing the opportunities that will gradually open up as the route is arranged, but at the same time remains an outside observer,” said the senior adviser to the embassy Vladimir Isupov.
The existing part of the Northern Sea Route passes exclusively in Russian territorial waters, reaching to Arkhangelsk in the west and to Chukotka in the east.
The ships nevertheless go further – to the ice-free ports of Murmansk and Vladivostok. Russia has repeatedly spoken about plans to expand the existing waterway to connect the harbors of Western Europe and Asia – the route through the NSR is almost two times shorter than the route through the Suez Canal.
But there are worries, and they are, as usual, predominantly political.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Marie Erickson Sereide told Izvestia, the Norwegian side is eyeing the Northern Sea Route, but so far does not see its economic prospects.
Currently the route operates within the framework of existing agreements, as it passes outside of Norwegian territorial waters.
But it should be checked for compliance with environmental standards that are put forward for ship routes in the Arctic, the minister emphasized.
“As far as I can see, the NSR has serious problems regarding everything: from search and rescue operations and insufficient infrastructure along the entire route to an extremely harsh climate. This greatly complicates the task of making this route as profitable and commercially successful, as many would like,” Sereide said.
The minister also stated that Norway had not considered the possibility of providing Svalbard ports for use within the framework of the NSR. Earlier, Russian experts suggested that the island’s ports, convenient in terms of location, could be involved in the Northern Sea Route.
“Svalbard as a part of Norwegian territory is not a subject for discussion within the framework of this project,” the Foreign Minister explained.
“We have yet to explore this possibility, given the sovereignty of Norway over the island, as well as the impact of the Northern Sea Route on the environment and compliance with environmental requirements.”
Russia does not need to create new ports on Svalbard for the Northern Sea Route, but should take care to modernize the existing ones on the Arctic coast of the Russian Federation, according to Alexander Pilyasov, member of the Arctic and Antarctic Council under the Federation Council, director of the Center for the Economy of the North and the Arctic.
“Our presence on Svalbard should be supported through diversification – to develop scientific and educational cooperation, to open colleges for training in coal business, for example, branches of Arkhangelsk or Murmansk universities on the island,” the expert shared.
He also noted that he had spoken to many Norwegian representatives regarding the Northern Sea Route and each time they stated that they were interested in the NSR, but not as a national transport route of Russia, but as part of a larger intercontinental route.
And while Oslo is slow in joining the Northern Sea Route, other countries, such as Japan and China, have become seriously interested in the route. Beijing, represented by Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kahn, praised Russia’s offer to participate in the joint development of the NSR within the framework of the One Belt, One Road Initiative.
In March of this year, the head of Rosatom Vladimir Likhachev said that he had negotiations with Japanese colleagues, representatives of large logistics companies, and the latter showed great interest in the project. A more detailed discussion of Japanese participation in the Northern Sea Route will take place on the sidelines of the Eastern Economic Forum (WEF) in Vladivostok on September 4th-6th 2020.
Among European countries, the Netherlands is interested in the NSR. In October last year, the Dutch company Damen already used the Arctic route to deliver 24 tugboats from China to the port of Rotterdam.
Norway is showing some antagonism against the project, predominantly because currently it is going through a NATO, and predominantly US militarization on its territory, and it wouldn’t be the first time an European country sells out its economic and national interest in order to gain the favor of Washington.
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