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Ministry of the Two Oceans

Lev Kolomyts on the prospects for the transfer of the Arctic to the Ministry of Eastern Development

On January 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev suggested that President Vladimir Putin “complement the competencies of the Ministry for the Development of the Far East with Arctic issues, motivating this step by the inexpediency of creating a new management structure, while there is a need to streamline the coordination of efforts to develop this macro region. The president agreed with the proposal, and from now on, the Ministry of Eastern Development, together with the Far Eastern “development institutions”, apart from the Far East, will be responsible for approximately 1,7 million square meters. km of the Arctic zone, in places much less favorable and equipped for living than the Far East itself.

Ministry of the Two Oceans
Thus, Deputy Prime Minister Yury Trutnev, who headed the state commission on the Arctic six months ago, now has the authority to develop in relation to half of the territory of Russia and to the coastline of two oceans at once - the Pacific and the Northern Arctic. It is obvious that the ministry will be expanded and the minister will have an “arctic” first deputy (the governor of the Murmansk region, Marina Kovtun, is considered one of the likely candidates for this position). Below is a brief overview of the circumstances and problems that the envoy and the ministry will have to face.


According to the decree of the President of Russia from 2 in May 2014 goal “On land territories of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation”, these include the territories of the Murmansk region, Nenets, Yamalo-Nenets and Chukotka autonomous districts, Vorkuta and Norilsk, several uluses of Yakutia, a number of districts of the Arkhangelsk region and the Krasnoyarsk Territory, as well as the northern islands. The total length of the coastline from the Kola Peninsula to Chukotka is almost 23 thousand km.

The Arctic is as big as the Far East, and although less diverse in climate (there are no subtropics and taiga here), but it is also economically heterogeneous. As well as the Far East, it is the raw material storeroom of Russia. The shelf of the eastern part of the region - the Laptev Sea, East Siberian and Chukchi Seas - is considered promising for oil and gas production. Large hydrocarbon reserves are assumed in Yakutia and Chukotka (Indigiro-Chukotka, Lena-Anabar and Anadyr oil and gas regions). Also in the Eastern Arctic zone, deposits of ores, precious stones and minerals are explored.

Economic activity in the Arctic is concentrated in the west, where there are cities and large enterprises: these are the Kola Peninsula, Komi (Vorkuta), Yamal and Taimyr (Norilsk). 

The Kola Peninsula is famous for the mining of apatites and the non-freezing Murmansk port, which acts as a supply hub for the entire western part of the Northern Sea Route. Arkhangelsk is a port and a large timber processing center. The Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug is the largest supplier of hydrocarbons in the country (78% of Russian gas reserves), Gazprom and NOVATEK act as production operators. The latter has built a plant for the production of liquefied natural gas (LNG) in the region, investing in the port of Sabetta. 

Vorkuta specializes in coal mining, the Komi and Nenetsky districts have a variety of mineral resources and production facilities, including the Prirazlomnaya offshore oil platform. In all these regions, the presence of railways and highways provides access to the sea (Northern Sea Route) and acceptable transport connectivity of the miners to markets and suppliers.

To the east of the mouth of the Yenisei, Nornickel, the main Russian producer of nickel, copper and platinum, operating in Taimyr, is the only large enterprise. Then the civilization ends: there are no factories or cities in the eastern Arctic zone (the population of Anadyr is 15 thousand). 

Due to the lack of roads, the vast raw material wealth of Yakutia is transported mainly not to the north, but to the south. With the advent of the new head, the republic has stepped up its efforts in the Arctic direction: a separate ministry has been created in the government, projects have been launched to reconstruct the port of Tiksi and to build a new shipyard in Zhatay. Chukotka, which also has large reserves of minerals, is actually self-sufficient and communicates with the “big land” only by air and in summer by sea.


The increased interest in the Arctic, which in recent years is shown not only by the Russian authorities, but also by other states, including those without direct access to the northern seas, is due to several factors, including the discovery of huge hydrocarbon reserves on the Arctic shelf. There are two other circumstances that have drawn attention to the North: these are issues of national security and transport logistics along the Asia-Europe route through the Northern Sea Route, which, due to global warming, has been considered passable almost all year round.

The economic, social, and military arrangement of the vast territory abbreviated to the Russian Arctic (Arctic zone of the Russian Federation) required planning and coordinating the actions of many players, as well as streamlining the mass of federal and departmental legal acts already adopted. 

To this end, in 2013, the “Strategy for the development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and national security for the period up to 2020” was approved; in 2014, the state program “Socio-economic development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation for the period up to 2020” was approved. 190 billion rubles. prolonged until 2025 year.

The long-awaited law “On the development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation” was called to establish the legal framework, which was initially planned to be submitted to the government on 2017, then on 2018, but did not happen - the original bill was severely criticized by the “Arctic” governors, after which they are mired in approvals, and it is not necessary to expect its quick adoption. 

Institutional uncertainty is introduced by the fact that both the state institutions mentioned and each of the 8 Arctic entities have their own strategies of action in the Arctic zone, and the mechanisms of interaction and coordination between them are not stated anywhere. Thus, the Arctic still does not exist in the regulatory documents as a single object of regulation of economic activity. The space of the macroregion is divided by administrative boundaries and corporate relations, which hinders the implementation of a single coordinated state policy.

In addition to responsible for the state program of the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Transport, the Ministry of Environment and Rosatom have plans for the development of the Arctic. Ministry of Environment trains a comprehensive project “Realization of the mineral-raw and logistic potential of the Arctic”, the Ministry of Transport has two of them: the Northern Sea Route and the part of the project “Sea ports of Russia” related to the Northern Sea Route. In 2017, the Ministry of Natural Resources even planned to create the FSUE “Agency of the Arctic and Antarctic” based in St. Petersburg, the historical capital of the Arctic and Antarctic studies of Russia. 

In the Russian government for some time rumors circulated about the possibility of creating a special Ministry of the Arctic, now in the same place a national project is being prepared under the conditional name “Arctic”. Rosatom, the main owner of heavy icebreakers, is preparing its own plan, because at the end of 2018 got powers for arrangement, development and operation of the Northern Sea Route, as well as opportunities to participate in the transportation of LNG, the construction of new icebreakers and floating nuclear power stations for the power supply of the Arctic ports (while one is built - Academician MV Lomonosov PATES, intended for Chukotka).

The list of players will be incomplete without mentioning the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation. The interest of the military in the Arctic territories was probably demonstrated to the general public for the first time last year at the Victory Parade, when armored vehicles with “snow” camouflage drove across Red Square. But system work began much earlier: over the past six years, the Ministry of Defense has built several hundred objects in the Arctic, including the famous “Arctic shamrocks” - autonomous space design bases. Without a doubt, the agency will continue to strengthen its presence in the region.


The main, no doubt, arctic problem is the lack of transport infrastructure. Its configuration, ideally, is simple: the Northern Sea Route is the main latitudinal highway, to which the meridional (water and land) routes go from the south, which would also be useful to connect to each other. Today there are great difficulties in all components of this infrastructure. 

The development of meridional routes involves an intensive modernization of the ports of the eastern coast (Tiksi, Khatanga, Pevek and others), of which budget funds have so far been allocated only to Tiksi. In the SMP, a little more than 2018 million tons of cargo was transported in 20, more than tripled from 1991 to 2000 in the western part and in the 30 times in the eastern part, this seems to be a good result: the maximum Soviet figure ( almost 7 million tons) was tripled. 

But this is not enough: last year's presidential decree No. 204 set a new goal - to achieve cargo turnover in 2024 million tons by 80. Prospects for achieving this indicator are the responsible ministries and departments rate very carefully. The set of tasks requiring solutions for increasing freight traffic is well known: it is necessary to replenish the icebreaking fleet, build navigation, hydrometeorological, rescue and port infrastructure; all this requires housing, communications, roads and energy. Among the obstacles to increasing traffic is mentioned such factors as narrow icebreaker hulls, making channels in ice that are insufficient for the passage of wider cargo ships. Observers have doubts about the adequacy of the cargo base and, in general, in calculations for the transit potential of the NSR, considered as an alternative to the Suez Canal, since the profit from the traffic may be incomparable with the cost of its maintenance.

More interesting with latitudinal railways, two of them. The first - Belkomur (White Sea - Komi - Ural) - began to be built in the 1930s, but only two separate sections (500 km from 1200) were built, which are currently required to be interconnected. The project, despite the obvious usefulness for the Arctic regions, has not been implemented so far; it is also not in the plans of the Russian Railways. The main problem of implementation today is the need to build a deep-water port in Arkhangelsk, which would require almost more money than the railway itself. 

The second, the so-called Northern Latitudinal Railway (the railway part of the megaproject “Ural Industrial - Ural Polar”) should connect the Northern and Sverdlovsk railways along the Obskaya - Nadym - Pangody - Urengoy route. The project cost is estimated at about 230 billion rubles, most of which are expected to be invested by investors (not yet determined) on a concession basis. In already inhabited places, the expansion of railway approaches to the port of Murmansk remains topical.

A separate situation is with nuclear icebreakers designed to ensure navigation along the NSR. It is planned to add three more to the existing four (under construction at the Baltic Shipyard), as well as the mega-icebreaker "Leader", the order for which has been transferred to the not yet completed superyard "Zvezda" (Bolshoy Kamen, Primorye). The United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) considered this step politicalas the “Star”, unlike the “Baltzavod”, has neither the staff nor the experience needed for such a complex project. Four more icebreakers with power plants on diesel and LNG should be built for Novatek, two of them can also go to Zvezda.

Among other problems that impede the development of the Arctic, are the legacies of the Soviet period - a single-industry resource economy, sharpened for the extraction of raw materials, and the “suburban” settlement system associated with it. If in Soviet times the state preferred to colonize the Arctic, creating large cities in the north, in 1990 the concept of resource development was dominated by a much cheaper shift method, which led to a decline in social infrastructure in many polar cities. The question of choosing a model of settlement today remains open.


The picture described above is very superficial and fragmentary, and, obviously, does not take into account all the problems and contradictions of a complex conglomerate of physical, legal, organizational and financial phenomena, known as the “Russian Arctic”. Nevertheless, it should be stated that the plenipotentiary and the ministry of development of half of the Russian Federation face many tasks, the solution of which requires building communication and cooperation between a large number of influential participants. The situation is complicated by the “western” concentration of business activity, infrastructure facilities, management competencies - since the administrations of western regions of the federation have special structural divisions that have many years of experience in organizing life in the Arctic Circle.

As for the scientific and analytical support for development projects, St. Petersburg with its Institute of the Arctic and Antarctic is the traditional center of regional research, and last fall at St. Petersburg State University was created Arctic Research Center, which aims to unite all relevant scientific programs. 

The Scientific Center for the Study of the Arctic, which will significantly increase in the case of a scientific and educational center in Tyumen, operates in the YNAO. The Arctic agenda has always been a priority for the Northern Arctic Federal University in Arkhangelsk and the Murmansk State University. Northeastern Federal University (Yakutsk) only recently entered this clearing. 

The potential scientific asset of the Ministry of the East is FEFU, which previously declared its Arctic ambitions, but does not have sufficient experience in the north. 

It seems that dealing with research questions about the eastern part of the macro-region to the western colleagues in some cases will turn out to be unproductive, simply due to the lack of the required data. Therefore, it is possible to recommend to the ministry to create a profile scientific working group with the participation of specialists from FEFU, NEFU and institutes of the Far East Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, with the aim of forming an eastern “center of Arctic competences”.

From the point of view of the approach to the development of the macro-region, I would like to mention a few fundamental, in our opinion, points. 

First, the Soviet practice, in which the state was in one person both the customer and the performer of the development of the Arctic, was replaced by a new model, in which the state should maintain the overall development framework, taking into account the limited business interest in setting up production in such adverse conditions. The Far Eastern development model “the state is responsible for infrastructure, the business for production” seems even more relevant here, in view of the key role of logistics. 

Second: to master the polar north only on a rotational basis, most likely, is impossible, we need a differentiated approach to the resettlement model depending on the conditions of a particular territory, not reducible to the rotational plans of corporations. 

And third: we should not forget about the importance of social development, which is especially important in extreme conditions - in this regard, the priority of human capital in the strategy of the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia) is indicative.
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