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Leonid Bershidsky

Putin’s Arctic Plans Are a Climate Change Bet

Russia has launched its third new nuclear icebreaker as part of a massive effort to control shipping routes before the ice melts.

The float-out ceremony of the nuclear-powered icebreaker Ural.

The float-out ceremony of the nuclear-powered icebreaker Ural.

Photographer: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images

Last weekend, Russia launched the last of a new crew of atomic icebreakers meant to consolidate the country’s dominance of commercial traffic in the Arctic. As much of the rest of the world recognizes climate change as an emergency, Russia is working hard to capitalize on it — and the U.S. appears to be far behind.

The icebreaker Ural, launched at the Baltic Shipyard in St. Petersburg, is the third and last ship, at least for now, of Project 22220. The other two, the Arktika and the Sibir, were launched in 2016 and 2017; the Arktika is expected to enter service this year. These powerful ships, capable of crashing through 3-meter-thick ice for clearing shipping routes, are the first nuclear-powered icebreakers designed in Russia since the collapse of the Soviet Union and fully built in post-Soviet times. The current nuclear icebreaker fleet is old, mostly built in the 1970s and 1980s, and much of it is no longer functional. The Russian government aims to replace it with the new giant ships in order to make what Russia calls the Northern Sea Route navigable year-round, not just a few months a year.