Russia Pursues ‘Region-Oriented’ Approach in Arctic Development

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 165

Port of Murmansk (Source: Barents Observer)

On October 26, President Vladimir Putin formally adopted the “Strategy for the Development of the Russian Arctic Zone and Provision of National Security Through 2035,” which aims to implement a “region-specific approach” for dealing with problems facing the country’s vast, strategically important, yet increasingly problematic Arctic region (see EDM, November 9). While the Strategy mentions parts of Arkhangelsk Oblast, the Republic Sakha (Yakutia), and Karelia and Komi republics, a clear priority in the Russian High North is allocated to Murmansk Oblast, the Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YaNAO), and Nenets Autonomous Okrug (, October 26). The document ascribes each of these latter four entities a special role in promoting Russia’s ambitions and achieving its specific objectives in the Arctic.

The Strategy gives particular significance to Murmansk Oblast, emphasizing a broad range of complex and multifaceted transformative measures targeting this province (, October 26). Murmansk has long been the Russian Federation’s most prioritized Arctic entity. In 2007, an initiative named the “Arctic Bridge” envisaged creating a seasonal, 6,700-kilometer maritime transport route between Murmansk and the Canadian port of Churchill, Manitoba (RBC, October 19, 2007). More recently, during last year’s ninth international “Arctic: Present and Future” Forum, the Murmansk delegation delivered a presentation entitled “Murmansk—The Capital of the Arctic,” which highlighted several key sectors that drive economic development in the oblast. Aside from traditional hydrocarbon reserves and bio-marine resources, the region has high industrial (shipbuilding) as well as strategic transportation potential. That said, the Murmansk presenters noted that creeping depopulation poses a serious challenge (, December 6, 2019).

Negative demographic trends in this Russian Arctic province are acknowledged in Moscow and were addressed in the newly adopted Strategy. According to Konstantin Dolgov, a member of the Federation Council (upper chamber of the Russian parliament) from Murmansk, the Russian Arctic development document envisages the oblast’s dramatic transformation in terms of human capital by the creation of 200,000 new jobs by 2035 (Rossyiskaya Gazeta, November 3, 2020).

Taking into account these and other concerns, Article 20 of the Strategy proposes several measures that roughly fall into two broad categories. First are measures in the domain of infrastructure, with the ultimate objective being to transform Murmansk into a complex multi-dimensional transportation hub and a key link along the Northern Sea Route (NSR), which will carry Asian (mainly Chinese) goods to European Union markets. Related plans concern upgrading other types of infrastructure, including local airports. Importantly, the Strategy underscores the necessity of modernizing the oblast’s military and dual-purpose infrastructure to maintain the necessary level of security. The second set of measures focus heavily on the development of Murmansk’s natural resource potential: especially hydrocarbons and rare-earth minerals (strategically important for both military and civilian applications) (, October 26).

In regard to Chukotka, Article 22 of the Strategy takes an explicit resource-oriented approach. Specifically, the document mentions a series of ambitious transit projects. Those include the Pevek seaport and terminals (Chaun Bay), a transportation-logistical hub in the Provideniya port (Bering Sea), and a year-round sea terminal on the Arinay Lagoon (also on the Bering Sea).

For the YaNAO, the document’s ambitious multi-dimensional program (Article 23) envisages several major activities. First is the development of an integrated system of transportation infrastructure, which includes measures in both sea- (the port of Sabetta with supporting facilities as well as the canal in the Gulf of Ob) and land-based infrastructure. Second is the development of facilities/infrastructure related to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and oil production. Here, the Strategy specifically prioritizes the gas-endowed Yamal and Gyda peninsulas. Importantly, the government planning document also pays attention to the necessity of boosting related sectors such as hydrocarbon processing. At the same time, the YaNAO is to become a major testing ground for Russia’s import-substitution strategy in the realm of petroleum-extraction and -processing capabilities. Specifically, the document emphasizes that in the oil-endowed Nadym-Pur and Pur-Taz districts, Russia will employ the most up-to-date, domestically produced means of drilling and extraction. Third, the Strategy calls for creating a regional recreational cluster—connecting the towns of Salekhard, Labytnangi and Kharp—which is to become an additional source of revenue and a means for diversifying the local economy. Toward 2024, the area should receive a world-class ski resort with a developed network of hotels, restaurants and recreational facilities (, October 26). As stated by the YaNAO’s Governor Dmitry Artukhov, “[T]his year [2020] has clearly demonstrated that the locals and all Russian citizens have a great interest in new resorts and tourist destinations. That is why, the creation of a new ski resort is the foundation of our project” (, October 27).

Regarding the neighboring Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Strategy (Article 21) discusses five major dimensions. First, it calls for the development of strategic-level transportation infrastructure. Namely, the document emphasizes plans to build a deep-water, ice-free Indiga Seaport suitable for ships with a deadweight of at least 100,000 tons. The port—de facto a coastal cluster connected to locally based resource-rich areas through a network of rail, pipeline and water transit—is expected to become a hub for exporting cargo from Russia to the United States, Canada, Europe, China and Asia-Pacific countries. Also, the Strategy lays out plans to modernize local railroads (the Sosnogorsk–Ingida line) and highways (Narian-Mar–Usinsk). Second, Russia’s new Arctic development strategy stresses the need to build or modernize Nenets’ energy-related infrastructure as well as extracting and processing facilities. Third, as a means of diversifying the local economy (heavily reliant on hydrocarbon exploration and extraction), the document proposes to increase the search and production of rare-earth minerals. Fourth, to deal with local food security concerns, the Strategy indicates several projects that should improve local conditions and even increase export capabilities in some areas (such as venison). Fifth, the planning document calls for the development of tourism and recreation as both a job creation engine and as a means to diversify the local economy away from its heavy natural resource–oriented base (, October 26).

The newly adopted Arctic development strategy ostensibly introduces a qualitatively new approach to dealing with the various issues and challenges faced by local populations and economies. Instead of its traditional one-size-fits-all prescriptions, which de facto ignored the needs of many parts of the Russian High North, Moscow is now pursuing a more region-specific policy. In the central government’s view, this will allow each Arctic federal entity to use its unique, region-specific competitive advantage to, in its own way, contribute to the development of the strategically vital Northern Sea Route. But it remains to be seen whether Russia sticks to the Arctic Strategy or if, ultimately, its policies simply revert to more intensified exploitation of regional natural resources.