Russia Teams with China for Development of the Northern Sea Route

Northern Sea Route
Late season 2021 run as Russia also looks to go year-round on the NSR (file photo)

Published May 19, 2024 6:17 PM by The Maritime Executive


Russia is seeking Chinese support in the development of its Northern Sea route. While briefing President Putin during a state visit to the Chinese city of Harbin last week, Rosatom’s head Alexei Likhachev said that they have formed a Russian-Chinese sub-commission for the Northern Sea Route (NSR).

“A decision has been made to create a joint commission for the development of the Northern Sea Route. Rosatom will represent the Russian side. On the Chinese side, it will be headed by the Minister of Transport. Our task is to create in the shortest time possible a joint program for expanding Chinese transit along the North Sea Route,” Likhachev elaborated.

He further added that Chinese transit via the route has the potential to grow to 50 million tons by 2030. In this regard, developing a partnership with China for the construction of Arctic vessels and the development of ports and logistic centers will be critical.

In 2022, Putin appointed the state-owned nuclear agency Rosatom to oversee the development of NSR as well as manage the icebreaking fleet, responsible for navigation along the route. The 3,500-mile route forms part of the Kremlin’s economic priority projects and one designed to cement Russian influence in the Arctic.

The sea route runs along the Russian Arctic coast extending from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait in the Far East. The route intends to halve the journey between Europe and Far Eastern ports, compared to the Suez Canal route.

Rosatom is already reporting some progress in shipments moved along NSR. Last year, the route set a new cargo record of 35 million tons surpassing the previous record of 34.1 million tons reached in 2021. The strong demand for Russian crude oil in China buoyed the volume of cargo moved through NSR. In 2023, China moved approximately 1.5 million tons of crude oil from the Baltic Sea to China via the Arctic route.

Meanwhile, the governor of the Russian northern region of Arkhangelsk Aleksandr Tsybulsky was also in China last week, where he visited the port city of Dalian. Tsybulsky called on shippers at the Port of Dalian to utilize NSR, even as his region seeks to develop Arkhangelsk Port, which is seen as a key hub for Russian Arctic shipping.

“Our interest is to boost shipping volumes with Chinese ports, among them Dalian. There is already a major increase in the number of ships sailing from Shanghai to Arkhangelsk across the far northern route. Over the course of summer this year, up to 12 ships will sail from Shanghai to Arkhangelsk,” said Tsybulsky.