On Tuesday, United States Secretary of State John Kerry traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two discussed the continuing efforts to enforce the Minsk Agreement and the war in Syria. However, another key issue that is developing between Putin and the world is the use of the Northeastern Passage. This shipping lane in the Arctic allows ships to deliver goods from China to Atlantic ports much more quickly than the Suez Canal.
Six years ago Beluga Shipping, a German company, sent a ship through the Northeast Passage marking an “unofficial inauguration” of the opening of a passageway that has long been considered a potentially viable resource for the shipping industry. In 2011, the number of ships that made the trip numbered 41 and came from Spain, Norway, and Singapore. Then two years later in 2013, 71 vessels made the trip through the Arctic Ocean enduring the frigid climate. However, in 2014 that number dropped down to 53, which is a decrease Putin does not seem particularly concerned about.
These numbers are rather humble in comparison to the 17,000 ships that passed through the Suez Canal in 2014, but nations cannot help but want to take advantage of the shorter route. One reason for the decline in ships is the fighting in Ukraine. With the embargo on Russian goods, Putin has little reason to maintain the route that at present is too narrow for some Chinese ships to pass through.
The U.S. and Russia have been cooperative since the end of the Cold War. For example, in 2011 both nations negotiated and signed the Arctic Search and Rescue (SAR) Agreement aimed at building an infrastructure to deal with the risks associated with increased maritime traffic in the Arctic. Also, in 2013 the U.S. and Russia were among the eight arctic nations who formed the Arctic Oil Spill Preparedness and Response Agreement, in an effort to maintain the areas “fragile” environment. Still, even last month, in Washington at the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, which Russia attended, the general consensus was that there is support for Russia to develop an Arctic Coast Guard to patrol the region.
While there is a general uneasiness with regards to Russia’s intentions in Ukraine, there are other issues to consider. This is perhaps why Kerry is making the extra effort with Putin to negotiate the enforcement of the Minsk Treaty. David Slayton and Lawson Brigham with the, Investors Business Daily, cite a reason why the U.S. and Russia should continue to cooperate in the Arctic. The Agreements that have been made and “hailed” as successes, will only fully develop if cooperation between the nations continues. Essentially, the infrastructure is there but it must be manned with personnel.
Vladimir Putin is a key player in the development of the Northeastern Passage. Kerry and Putin shared the sentiment that cooperation should continue but there appears to have been little progress in addressing the issues in Ukraine and Syria. Russia has built 10 SAR stations on the Northeastern Passage, but they have also been building military facilities. Cooperation is something that all involved would like to see continue but it is uncertain whether peripheral issues with undermine the process.
By Joel Wickwire
Investors Business Daily – Russia, U.S. Need To Cooperate in The Arctic
The New York Times – Kerry Arrives in Russia for Talks With Vladimir Putin on Cooperation
World Affairs – Prospects for Northeast Passage
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Image by Andrey’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons Flickr License