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While the world tore its hair out over the Suez, Russia saw an opportunity

Salvage crews using tugboats dislodged the 1,300-foot vessel Monday afternoon, according to Peter Berdowski, CEO of Dutch salvage company Boskalis, with more than 370 ships waiting to pass through the canal. The massive container ship ran aground Tuesday.

Russia last year released a sweeping plan to open up the Arctic shipping route, which includes building a fleet of dozens of nuclear icebreakers and other ships, mapping natural resources in the region and developing airports, ports and railways in northern Russia.

As Suez traffic choked to a halt last week, Russian officials were busy promoting the NSR.

Nikolai Korchunov, Russia’s envoy for international cooperation in the Arctic, said Friday that the Suez Canal blockage should press the world to look at the NSR as an alternative.

“The incident in the Suez Canal should make everyone think about diversifying strategic sea routes amid the increasing scope of sea shipping,” he said. Korchunov added that there was “no alternative” to the NSR.

In 2018, Putin decreed that cargo traffic along the route should be sharply increased — to 80 million tons by 2024. Cargo volumes reached 30 million tons by the end of 2019 and 32 million tons last year, according to the state nuclear corporation Rosatom.

Responsibility for delivering on the NSR master plan and opening up exploitation of the Arctic amid retreating polar ice has been handed to the state oil and gas monopolies Rosneft and Gazprom, Rosatom and the private natural gas giant Novatek.

Global environmental groups are concerned that the predominance of Russian state fossil fuel giants in developing the region may lead to environmental concerns being swept aside. They fear that increased traffic and icebreaking activity will speedclimate change effects in the fragile Arctic region, as well as riskoil spills and other disasters.

In 2020, Russia’s meteorological agency said the ice cover in the Arctic sea route had reached a record low.

Russia’s Natural Resources and Environment Ministry warned in September 2019 that the country’s temperatures were increasing 2.5 times as fast as those of any other nation.

Russia has been hit hard by climate change, including extreme weather events such as flooding in the east of the country and calamitous Siberian wildfires. It faces massive challenges from the melting of the permafrost.

In January last year, Russia’s audit agency warned that climate change could knock 3 percent from the GDP annually by 2030 unless steps were taken to address the problem.

It warned that climate change “is leading to shrinking sea ice in the Arctic, increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, and droughts that affect much of Russia’s agricultural areas.”

Last week, Russia’s navy held an exercise in the Arctic that included three nuclear-powered submarines breaking through the ice and surfacing simultaneously. A nuclear submarine fired a torpedo from beneath the ice.

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