Why Russia Is Dominating The Battle For The Arctic
America's trying to make a land grab in the Arctic Ocean. But Russia has way more icebreakers, and the Arctic is under a lot of ice
The U.S. is fighting with a half-dozen other countries for a chunk of the Arctic Ocean that’s rich with untapped oil and natural gas. President Obama, during his visit to Alaska on Tuesday, is expected to concede that the U.S. isn’t prepared for this global battle for Arctic occupation.
One sign of that is America’s anemic arsenal of icebreaker ships. A reduction of Arctic ice has opened up the Arctic Ocean for trade, transportation, tourism and research, but a world power can’t do any of those things without icebreakers. Icebreakers, which are typically between 400 feet and 550 feet, have powerful propulsion and special bow design that helps them slice through the ice. Russia has enough of the ships to cut circles around the Americans. And it’s not just Russia: Sweden, Finland and Canada also more have more than the U.S.
To keep up in what some are calling the next Cold War, Obama has proposed to acquire a new icebreaker by 2020 instead of 2022 and to begin building more of them. But an analysis shows that the U.S. still has a ways to go before its fleet can match that of Russia, which will soon have more icebreakers than all other countries combined. The ships can cost a $1 billion each and take up to a decade to make.
Russia’s icebreakers are such a point of pride that the country included one in the 2014 Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Sochi.