Never slam doors in Arctic, or ice will crack, Far East, Arctic development minister says

  MOSCOW:  Russia's chairing term at the Arctic Council is over, but the work to develop the Northern territories continues at a new lev...


MOSCOW:  Russia's chairing term at the Arctic Council is over, but the work to develop the Northern territories continues at a new level. Russia's Minister for Development of the Far East and Arctic Alexey Chekunov said in an interview with TASS about the Northern Sea Route, the development of tourism, about "eyes from the space," and about strategic initiatives from India and China, about the challenge to compete with the Cheburashka movie, and about why no occupation is more exciting than to develop the Arctic.

- The chairing role at the Arctic Council has passed to Norway. What are results of our two-year chairing? What could we achieve even though the Western countries have frozen cooperation in the organization?

- The Arctic Council has been established as an international organization, where countries, having borders that reach the Arctic Ocean, the North Pole, coordinate activities in the Arctic. It is a very important format as the Arctic is where the weather is "cooked." Processes in the Arctic influence the planet's climate. Moreover, scientists have found that warming in the Arctic progresses generally quicker than elsewhere in the world - by about 1.5 degrees. Consequently, the permafrost is thawing, the seasonal ice areas are shrinking, including in the Northern Sea Route. Thus, the coordination of actions in the Arctic - environmental, scientific works, the economic development - those aspects were eyed as an important international task.

We regret that a few countries, due to the West's short-sighted policies, have slammed the door and actually ruined work of the Arctic Council. The Arctic won't melt away from this. The Russian Federation has used this gap in foreign relations to focus on the domestic agenda. Our domestic agenda is a half of the global agenda in the Arctic, since Russia owns a half of the global Arctic. We have organized practically all planned events, with the exception for multilateral international events. However, we have shifted the topics towards development of the Russian Federation's Arctic Zone - those are higher quality of life, development of the economy, sciences, technologies, and the environment aspect. The events were successful.

We have highlighted the topic of low-numbered indigenous peoples. They are more than a dozen in Russia. A true treasure chest of the Northern peoples' culture.

We have worked hard in the economy sphere. In my opinion the very adoption of a document on development of the Northern Sea Route, the first in its history, is a landmark. We have a clear action plan to 2035. It comprises 1,833 events, which we dub milestones. Imagine - those are 1,833 milestones to the North's new economy. This plan's implementation will make the Arctic new in terms of the active economy and in terms of the Russian budget's revenues, thus the life in the Arctic will improve.

I would like to stress that bigger economic activities would not mean any ecological degradation. Right on the contrary. Unfortunately, we have to confirm that the Arctic by now has been polluted significantly over decades of irresponsibility in solving economic and defense tasks in the Soviet times. That was a different generation, and the ecology topic was not on agenda. Nowadays, we can see the polluted Arctic coastline, abandoned equipment, fuel barrels. The large-scale Clean Arctic project's cleanup missions there feature businesses, officials and volunteers.

Additionally, the intensive navigation makes the Arctic more safe. Sailing through the ice, without any helicopter assistance, or backup from the rescue fleet, even following an icebreaker is not always too comfortable. We offer the complete coverage of the Arctic - by the coastal, marine and air forces. We have modern fleets of helicopters, icebreakers and rescue vessels, a new network of rescue centers, and, which is extremely important, we will have "eyes from the space." A few days ago, Russia launched a carrier, which would bring into the orbit the Kondor-FKA satellite for the ice reconnaissance. This all makes the Arctic navigation safer.

These results have developed from the special attention to the Arctic, initiated by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, as well as this country's preparations for the Arctic Council, focused in more than a hundred events.

Like it is in the saying "no joy without annoy," I wouldn't say the situation on the international arena was annoy. It is a historic challenge, which came in handy. Russia is one of the eight Arctic countries.

If the remaining countries realistically did not exit the Arctic Council, it would have sung with the voice of Greta Thunberg. So, luckily, the council was singing with the mighty Russian bass voice, and that was a Russian song.

- You are speaking about big plans and projects, which are being implemented. What about something closer to us? What are the key directions of work in the Arctic for, say, year 2024?

- In 2024, we expect a big upswing in cargo traffic along the Northern Sea Route (NSR) (under the development plan approved by the government, by 2030, the traffic along NSR should reach 200 million tons, in 2022 - 34 million tons - TASS). The entire Arctic will feel it. Here, of importance would be the timely implementation, commissioning of leading investment projects. This year we plan to launch a unique facility - a floating plant to liquefy natural gas from Murmansk for the Arctic LNG-2 project. Additionally, we plan it would be towed to the Utrenniy terminal at Sabetta (port), which now is ready to receive, liquefy and supply gas to international markets.

The most important issue is to overcome technical limitations, to localize production and to master technologies that formerly for us were easier to buy. I regularly visit our largest industrial enterprises in the Far East and the Arctic and I want to express gratitude and admiration to shipbuilders and all industrialists who supply the shipbuilding sector. Let's just say, unfriendly countries are forced to use some Russian technologies that only we can do. If Finnish screws tear up like paper in the Russian ice, then only Russian specialists are able to weld and repair them.

Besides large-scale goals related to the Northern Sea Route, there are also local ones. They are no less important, because even dozens of millions of tons of liquefied natural gas cannot please Northern residents as much as, for example, a 2% mortgage loan. In every Arctic region we can hear requests for mortgage benefits, similar to those used in the Far East. This year, we will submit these proposals to the state leadership level. I really hope we will be supported.

Generally speaking, the expanding to the Arctic of the positive experience we have gained in the Far Eastern Federal District is our tactical priority to 2024. Working conditions in the Arctic and in the Far East must be equal.

As you know, the Arctic Hectare program was launched in August, 2021. Over that time, we have received about 11,000 applications, and about 3,500 people have already signed contracts to use land plots for free. People are happy - they receive a land plot, they are motivated to do something on it, for example, to build a house. Moreover, nowadays our north-western industry is short of demand. If we build wooden houses from our own prefabricated kits, if we consume our own lumber inside Russia, we will greatly support the industry, which faced a crisis as the Western markets closed.

And next, if we talk about year 2024, it is necessary to say about the Snezhinka (Snowflake) scientific station in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District. For us, this is an example of what we would like to create on the Spitsbergen Archipelago. Snezhinka is a symphony that we as an orchestra are playing together with the Ministry of Science and Higher Education, the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), the Ministry of Construction, and other respected colleagues. This is a complex project, it is unique, it experiences changes in the equipment supply chains, changes in the cost of main components. Its cost now is higher than the cost we expected originally. Nevertheless, I believe that jointly, in two stages, we will commission it. I hope, by the end of 2024, or in early 2025 the latest, the first stage of Snezhinka will be completed.

By the way, I would like to stress the quality of Arctic tourism. Social scientists have analyzed public opinion, including the attitude to tourism in the Arctic - 98% of the polled expressed satisfaction. In some ways, the Barents Sea will give the Black Sea a head start. The Arctic tourism is definitely about the Russian character. It is eco-friendly, close, with convenient flights, good services. Supply and demand are always close.

Nowadays we can see a large number of new business projects, from glamping to largest tourism projects, say, in the Murmansk Region, where leading Russian investors are shaping the tourist culture for decades to come. Why? Because parents will bring children there, who later on will bring their children there.

I'd like to say without pathos - we are creating a new Russian person in the Arctic and in the Far East. The Russian character, a commitment to traditions and culture that goes deep not just in centuries, but much deeper.

I wish children dreamed of developing the Arctic and the Far East, because nothing in the world can be more interesting.

- You have mentioned the Arctic Hectare, and I don't think you will argue some regions are more popular than others. Murmansk and Arkhangelsk receive more applications than, for example, the Nenets Autonomous Region. What's the reason? Can it be simply because of different population rates?

- Sure. Pure arithmetic. The population in the Nenets Region is 25 times smaller than in the Murmansk Region. Besides, the land there is not poor, there's oil, produced actively. The leading oil producer in the Nenets Region is a joint venture of Russia and Vietnam. That's the Arctic we have - Vietnamese produce oil there. As for the Murmansk Region, it is rather mild, warm Arctic (of course, it's the polar "warmth"). By the way, Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin's decision to allocate free land plots in the Arctic Zone followed his visit to that region, as the Murmansk Region's residents had asked him to have this program.

Russia is so different, so huge, that it's impossible to apply common rates.

- Let's discuss the international cooperation. You have visited Delhi recently and said India is interested in Arctic projects. What are they?

- First of all, the Northern Sea Route is of strategic interest to them. Clearly, the world now is less predictable. Densely populated countries like India or China - like an aircraft - cannot fly with one wing, and it is impossible for them to focus the logistics only on one transport corridor, for example, on the Suez Canal only. To them, the opportunity to access key sales markets, to receive supplies through an alternative eastern route, that is, through the Northern Sea Route, is a strategic imperative. They need an alternative path. Moreover so since India becomes one of the largest consumers of Russian energy resources, and in the future it may become a major buyer of goods produced in our Arctic - LNG, oil, concentrate.

I also want to remind you about the Creative Week that took place in Vladivostok, in which Indian producers and cinematographers showed interest. Experts know what happens when completely different creative schools come together. It's very exciting to see what comes out of it. That could be the beginning of interesting products. The market is huge, and any person engaged in creativity as a business dreams to have 1.5 billion Indians or Chinese watch his or her movie or cartoons. By the way, not so long ago, in Yakutia, the president's aide Maxim Oreshkin and I had an opportunity to see top 10 movies in Yakut theaters. Five of them are produced in Yakutia. Noteworthy, the one ranked second practically catches up with the Cheburashka movie, which seems next to unrealistic.

Of course, I wish this could be seen across Russia, I wish we could break into the cultural sphere abroad. This niche does exist.

To an extent, Russia has been a guiding star by showing alternatives, by demonstrating that the rules of culture and arts do not originate from one boss. We have demonstrated that the world is inhabited by different nations, they are original and can choose their own ways. I hope, thanks to our work, our victory, people will realize that a Yakut movie can be no less thrilling than a movie produced in California. The humanity will become richer, because we will consume more diverse cultural and information products. People will become more united.

I have seen national artistic products both in the Far East and in the Arctic. They are no less impressive, attractive and interesting than C-pop, but the commercial aspect needs to be tuned up, and we need to learn how to sell. I believe Russia will be a unique player in the global market.

- What other countries demonstrate interest in our projects in the Arctic?

- China, large logistics companies from the Middle East, Dubai companies as major players in the ports and transportation market. Thailand has offered its logistics options.

Logistics routes undergo restructuring, but we are at the very beginning of this novelty. While as for LNG transportation the Northern Sea Route has been in place, the container shipment is still a pioneer route. We have been building it out together with the Rosatom Corporation by organizing coaster shipments, which last year were two on NSR. This year, we'll have three coaster shipments. The demand for the first coaster service was 15%, and for the second — 90%. What matters is it was fully loaded from east to west with fish from the Kamchatka Peninsula. This is what the president has stressed - the domestic demand. Here is a Russian product, which formerly with less profit for the Russian budget used to be supplied to the East. Now we ship it from the Far East to the shelves of our stores in the European part of Russia.

By building up such shipments, by attracting new players in the future, we will shake up this market and to reach gradually millions of tons, so that NSR becomes a major route for container shipping. All the countries that now ship goods through the Suez Canal will join this process.

For this process as well, we have been working on new port and ship repair facilities. The Northern Sea Route Development Plan is not a static final document. I expect we will update it in line with the dynamic situation. I think it would be right to include into NSR the ports of the Sakhalin's south, the port of Korsakov - the most important logistics center, which is located conveniently to intercept container cargo from China, from Japan, and to bring it further to NSR. This is a competitive advantage of our regions. They all - the Kamchatka, the Sakhalin, and the Primorsky Region - say in chorus they want to be NSR's final destinations. This is wonderful. We expect the Northern Sea Route will grow so that all the three mighty logistics hubs will have their worthy share of this market.

- By the way, how busy the coaster traffic will be this year?

- All the three shipments - surely at least 80%. Last year, 8,600 tons were transported, and this year we expect 11,000 tons.

- How many coaster voyages will be in 2024?

- At least four.

- I can't skip the Northern Latitudinal Railway. Is it clear when we can resume that project's implementation, and is it still of value?

- No doubt, we need this project. Only recently I've discussed it with Yamal's Governor Dmitry Artyukhov. When we decide on the financial model, we will work on a common decision with the Ministry of Economic Development, with the Finance Ministry, then will present it to deputy prime ministers. Then the decision will be taken. I am adamant we need a transport line of the kind. Both railways are important, and this has been confirmed by the Russian president. We will apply every effort to fulfil the president's order.

- It's impossible to argue that Spitsbergen is a unique place. It has always attracted attention, but recently we have been addressing it more often. What is the future of that archipelago and of Russia's presence there?

- The ministry undertook management of the Arktikugol Trust Company in March, last year, and it took us about a year to formalize all the papers. Back then, the patient, so to say, was conditionally alive though in emergency conditions - they did not sell coal, it was accumulated in stock. The boycott was in transport, logistics, diplomatic, financial spheres. The Russian goods store was closed down. We faced emergency supplies for our employees and residents. We have approached this task as a high priority. Russia's presence on Spitsbergen is a strategic issue. We have managed to stabilize the situation. At first, we overcame the transport blockade and organized supplies via the Murmansk Region and Norwegian ports. More importantly, with the help of a leading Russian coal company, we have managed to take coal, have it mixed with another coal thus making a regular market product, pay for per calories, though at discounted cost since it is a mixture. The price at which we sell coal now is four times higher than the price at which it was sold historically. That is, the trust company now receives financial resources not only to survive, but also to develop.

However, I would put to the top position not an economic breakthrough, but rather a humanitarian aspect - the people could feel attention, they have obtained hope. We can see already a new era in the life on Spitsbergen - they celebrated the New Year together with Norwegian children, the trust company has stable relations with the archipelago governor, and recently Russian children have participated in Norway's Constitution Day celebration.

This is a good example showing that common sense prevails north from the Arctic Circle. In the North, everything seems clearer, people are happy to make friends and to reach agreement.

In the future of Spitsbergen we can see promising tourist, scientific and research directions, since the archipelago's geography is convenient for polar studies. We've negotiated this work will be carried out by a consortium of BRICS countries. On the Yamal we will have the Snezhinka (Snowflake) station, and we expect to make a similar modern research station on Spitsbergen. Hopefully it will be an international project.

The archipelago has a rather deep historical heritage. As for the cultural aspect, we also plan to make Spitsbergen a tourist attraction. Not only for those curious to watch whales, but also for those who want to look into the Soviet past. We have a plan and now we are talking to potential business participants in this process. I wouldn't disclose the candidates yet, but I think one of our leading companies will undertake this job.

Coal mining on Spitsbergen, in compliance with the Paris Agreement, must continue. We are not stopping it, but due to small amounts, it will be rather a sightseeing project. Visitors will see how coal is mined, and what a coal mine looks like in polar conditions.


- We know about a comprehensive plan for the social and economic development of Norilsk to 2035. The plan is that about 100 houses of the total 400,000 sq m will be built there, as well as socially important facilities. Have the sanctions affected the plan's implementation anyhow?

- The situation has affected it in terms of higher costs of a certain number of objects, but nevertheless, today, as for the objects of 2022 and 2023, the plan is being implemented in the agreed parameters with the total amount of 120 billion rubles ($1.5 billion), where 24 billion ($293 million) come from the budget, and about 82 billion ($1 million) are funds of the Norilsk Nickel Company. The company fulfills its obligations. The facilities due to be commissioned in 2024 and 2025, will be more expensive than it was stated in the government's order of 2021. We will adjust the plan accordingly, will look for funding. As of now, the federal budget has planned for the coming three-year period the funds against to the approved plan.

- Mister Chekunov, let's sum up. With the transfer of chairing at the Arctic Council nothing has changed for us in the Arctic, right?

- Like I've said, at a separate archipelago Norway does demonstrate common sense.

If it learns to demonstrate this in the general work to develop the Arctic, then the entire Arctic will be better off. We will handle our Arctic by ourselves. We could have agreed with the Scandinavians if they had talked to us directly, not through prompts from Washington. Will the Arctic Council try to work without Russia? We will develop the Russian Arctic at the current pace, and it will be booming. I am confident - sooner or later the Arctic multilateral dialogue will resume, because the Arctic development is in fact a multilateral matter. Never slam doors in the Arctic, or the ice will crack.

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Local Glob: Never slam doors in Arctic, or ice will crack, Far East, Arctic development minister says
Never slam doors in Arctic, or ice will crack, Far East, Arctic development minister says
Local Glob
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