Uniqueness: Russia’s expanding its sphere of ocean influence

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Uniqueness: Russia’s expanding its sphere of ocean influence

Neill, World Ocean Observatory, 13

[Peter, contributed to organizations devoted to marine affairs, education, and culture. He was President of the South Street Seaport Museum from 1985-2004. He is a past President of the Council of American Maritime Museums and the International Congress of Maritime Museums, August 8, The World Post: A partnership between The Huffington Post and Berggruen Institute of Governance, “Russia in the Ocean World,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-neill/russia-in-the-ocean-world_b_3720518.html, accessed July 9, 2014, EK]

Not so long ago Russia had a 1,000-ship navy and was considered a major force in the balance of maritime power. And yet the nation has had historically limited access to the sea, primarily through ports in the Baltic Sea in the west, the Bering Sea in the north, and the Barents Sea and Sea of Okhokst in the east -- each with such complications as distance from the open ocean and seasonal ice which increase cost and constrain regular trade.

I can remember visiting Karlskorna some 15 years ago, among the first visitors to be allowed access to that Baltic naval station near St. Petersburg, to be amazed by the number and insubstantiality of that fleet, something that had inspired awe as a Cold War threat. Today the Russian Navy numbers less than 300 vessels, including one aircraft carrier and 70 submarines. That is changing. The Navy expects delivery of 36 new warships in 2013 and the Putin government has committed substantial resources to further expansion.

As a trading entity, the majority of Russia's transport passes through the Baltic Sea which experiences some the world's heaviest marine traffic -- some 2,000 ships moving daily carrying combined cargo of almost 840 million tons, about 10 percent of global seaborne trade of loaded goods. This too is changing, with the opening of the Northeast route across the top of Russia as a new connection between Asia, Europe, and the Americas, a function of the rapidly increasing temperature and consequent melting of prohibitive ice that has increased the time window for navigable passage. The implication of that route as a more direct and inexpensive way to transport oil, raw materials, and manufactured goods is enormous, and that financial opportunity is not lost on the Russians either.

And so we might expect Russia to amplify its voice beyond debate over missile systems, political influence, or human rights. President Putin seems determined to restore Russia's maritime role, not just in the face of the United States, but also China, Japan, and the European Union (EU).

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