Interview with Xavier Moreau, director of STRATPOL, about the Northern Sea Route
In these times of climate hysteria, global warming is not seen as a danger for everyone. Moscow relies heavily on the development of the Northern Sea Route, a trade route that connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean along the northern coast of Russia.
1) Xavier, thank you for this interview, it is always a pleasure to have you here. First of all, from a geographical and climatic point of view, what are the particularities of this trade route?
From a geographical point of view, it is a route that allows to connect the Baltic Sea to the Bering Sea along the Russian Arctic coast. Its use allows to shorten the journey by two weeks on average compared to the Suez Canal and to escape at the same time the “American sea police”. The warming of the climate in this area is a reality that the melting of the ice cap makes undeniable. Regardless of the origin of this warming, it is a blessing for the Northern Sea Route because it is making it practicable all year round. The limit of this route is the depth of some passages which makes it impossible for the moment to use ships like the biggest super tankers for example.
2) From a technical point of view, what are the means to make these crossings and what are the major ports along these routes?
Originally, ships had to be preceded by icebreakers, but thanks to global warming, this is less and less necessary, especially since some ships are directly equipped to navigate almost all year round. This is the case of the “Christophe de Margerie” which is an LNG carrier.
3) Who are the main actors in the development of these routes?
The main actor is of course Russia, either through public or private initiatives. The latter concern the increase of the fleet of suitable ships, notably the nuclear icebreakers which are manufactured by Rosatom. The Russian state is developing ports and railroad lines that allow them to be opened up as they progress southwards. In addition, there are private players, the best known of which is NOVATEK, which operates the Yamal gas field and sends the extracted gas either to Europe or to Asia. This type of project attracts foreign investors such as TOTAL and also Chinese companies. Yamal SPG is the first project 100% financed in Euro or Yuan.
4) In legal terms, these waters are mainly part of international waters. How does Russia intend to control these routes?
No, this route is essentially in Russian territorial waters, which can exercise total control over it, which is a source of great annoyance to Washington. On the other hand, the territories and economic zones of the Arctic, which are full of hydrocarbons, are the subject of disputes between Norway, the United States, Canada, and Russia, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.
5) This project is also part of the development policy of the Russian Far East. Can you describe us the main lines of this development policy?
Russia realized very early that economically it was necessary to turn to Asia and that the resources of the Arctic would allow it to increase its potential. It has therefore created a dedicated ministry to deal with the development of this immense region. The idea is that these Arctic resources could be a spearhead for the development of the Russian Far East, not only the ports but also the inland territories. For the moment the Northern Sea Route is used mainly for hydrocarbons, but in the long run it will be able to diversify. Rising fuel prices will make this shorter route between Asia and Europe more and more profitable.
6) Some time ago, you published a video on this subject. You talked about the interest of these roads to bypass the sanctions. With the new Western sanctions following the war in Ukraine, will the interest for these routes from Russia change?
This has already been a priority for several years, but it will only strengthen Russia’s strategic choice. All the goods that take this route between Russia and China are completely off Washington’s radar, especially since the two powers have given up on the dollar or the euro for their transactions.
7) What place could France ideally have in this project?
EDF, Engie and TOTAL should invest there to secure our hydrocarbon resources. TOTAL was a visionary company when it invested $13 billion in Yamal SPG and was planning to invest the same amount in the sister project Arctic SPG. Under pressure from the EU and NATO, it has given up… For now.
8) Finally, this region will surely be a new El Dorado as the development possibilities are so vast. What advice could you give to a young French person who wants to try the experience, what are the preferred sectors or positions?
If we are talking about the Northern Sea Route, the oil and gas sector seems to me to be essential, as well as the freight sector, but as long as sanctions are in place, it will be difficult for a Frenchman to make his mark. On the other hand, in the Russian Far East, there is simply everything to do, and Russia is in the process of investing colossal resources, such as the construction of a megalopolis of one million inhabitants in Vladivostok.