Russia Attempts to Limit Freedom of Navigation in the Northern Sea Route

The Russian parliament passed a law this week in an attempt to exert control over the Northern Sea Route north of Siberia. The law includes provisions that limit military traffic to a single vessel at a time, that military vessels give three months notification, and that submarines transit on the surface. The law was first proposed earlier this year.

This legislative move follows on Russian activity in recent years to re-militarize its Arctic areas and to expand its already world-leading fleet of icebreakers. The Ural relocated to Murmansk this week from St. Petersburg. The LK-60 class ship is the third out of a projected seven vessels in the world’s most powerful class of nuclear icebreakers, and can maintain 12 knots through 1.5 meter-thick ice. In an unusually specific mission, the Ural will be tasked with the full-time support of oil exploration.

Although remilitarization of the Arctic and icebreaker construction predate Russia’s latest invasion of Ukraine, the actions take on a more strident tone as Western sanctions take a toll on the Russian economy and its stature in the world. NATO has not been quiescent in the Arctic either, with remarks and actions specifically calling out both Russia and China. Shortly after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine NATO held Cold Response 2022, the largest Arctic exercise in decades, which brought together over 30,000 troops from 27 nations in Norway.

The United States continues building out its Arctic strategy, and has stepped up practical support such as arms sales to Finland as that nation, along with fellow Arctic Council member Sweden, pursues NATO membership.