Facts & Figures

AC member since 1996

Active Polar Icebreakers: 38
Population 143.5 million, approximately 2 million in the Arctic

Land Area 17.098 million km2

Russia’s Arctic territory stretches along 24,140 kilometers of coastline along the Arctic Ocean and waters above the Arctic Circle from the Barents Sea in the west at the border to Norway to the Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk in the far east. Russia’s coastline accounts for 53.18 percent of Arctic Ocean coastline and covers the Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, and East Siberian Sea. Throughout the country’s Arctic waters a number of archipelagos can be found, most prominently the Novaya Zemlya in the Kara Sea, Severnaya Zemlya in the Laptev Sea, and the New Siberian Islands in the East Siberian Sea. To the north-east of the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard, Russia’s Franz Josef Land is located just 950 kilometer miles from the North Pole. Russia’s closest point to the North Pole is Cape Fligely on Rudolf Island a mere 911 kilometers from the pole.

Russia’s Arctic territory is dominated by three major river systems, the Yenisey River in the west discharges in the Kara Sea, the Lena River empties in the Laptev Sea, and the Kolyma River ends in the East Siberian Sea. While these rivers are frozen for parts of the year, they represent a vital transportation route for parts of the year, aided in part by a specialized fleet of shallow-draft ice breakers to ensure access to communities and cities along these rivers.

Temperatures across Russia’s Arctic and sub-Arctic territory are the coldest recorded outside of Antarctica. The village of Oymyakon in the Yakutsk region,  regularly sees temperatures below -50 degrees centigrade and recorded a record low -71.2 degrees in 1924. Daily average low temperatures during winter, while inevitably varying across such large swath of land, range from –20 degrees centigrade to –40 degrees centigrade. During the summer month average daily high temperatures can stand 15-25 degrees centigrade but can reach as high as 35 degrees or above, especially in Russia’s sub-Arctic interior regions.

Russia’s Arctic population counts approximately 2 million people, about half of the people living in the Arctic worldwide. Russia’s largest cities above the Arctic Circle are Murmansk, also the Arctic’s most populous city, with a population of 303,754, Norilsk, with 175,365 inhabitants, and Vorkuta, counting 70,548 people. Russia counts over 100 identified ethnic groups, of which 41 are legally recognized as Indigenous small-numbered peoples of the North, Siberia, and the Far East. Of the 41 people eleven reside around or above the Arctic Circle.

Russia’s Arctic is home to approximately 67,000 people that are part of indigenous minorities, of which 75 percent live in rural areas. The largest indigenous groups in Russia are the Dolgan, Nganasan, Nenets, Saami, Khanty, Chukchi, Evenk, Even, Enets, Eskimo (or Yupik), and Yukagir. While traditional livelihood opportunities vary from region to region, the lives of all of Russia’s Arctic people are closely intertwined to the long history of exploitation of resources in Russia’s North, which contains vast quantities of natural resources, including oil and gas, coal, timber, and various minerals.

Resource exploration often occurs on or in proximity to the traditional homelands of indigenous peoples. While the impact of and the adjustment to industrialization varies from region to region, large swaths of land and rivers used for reindeer herding, fishing, and hunting have been lost to or been degraded by industrial development. In the process traditional knowledge has been lost and century-old pattern of land use have been ignored bringing with it high social cost and the deterioration of traditional culture. While economic development in the Arctic accounts for a growing share of Russia’ gross national product, it remains difficult for indigenous people to take advantage of higher education opportunities of benefit directly or indirectly from the economic opportunities related to the industrialization of the north.

The Russian economy is dominated by extraction of natural resources, primarily oil and natural gas. The country’s is the world’s third-largest producer of hydrocarbon resources and produced 525 million tons of oil and 668 billion cubic meters of natural gas in 2014 and more than 50 percent of Russia’s federal budget depends on revenue derived from oil and gas production. Russia’s Arctic and sub-Arctic regions account for 90 percent of Russia’s natural gas production and 10 percent of its oil production.

History of Oil and Gas in Russia’s Arctic

The exploration for and the exploitation of oil and gas in the Russian Arctic reaches back to the early 1930s. In 1930 the Arctic’s first oil field, Chibyuskoe, was discovered  in the Arctic in the Republic of Komi followed by the large Yarega oil fields in 1932.

Some of Russia’s largest oil and gas fields, some of which are still in production today, were discovered during geological prospecting in the 1960s and 1970s. Development focused on the West Siberian oil and gas province, and more specifically the Arctic parts part of the province known as Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug (YaNAO). A number of giant natural gas fields surpassing any previously known has fields in scope and size were discovered in YaNOA starting with the Tazovskoe field in 192, followed by the Novoportovskoe oil and gas condensate field in 1964, the Gubkinskoe oil and gas condensate field and the Zapolyarnoe gas field in 1965, the Urengoy oil and gas condensate field in 1966, the Medvezhye gas field in 1967 and the Russkoe oil field in 1968.

Additional developments followed in the 1970s and 1980s in the northeastern part of the West Siberian oil and gas province along the lower reaches of the Yenisei River with the discovery of the Vankor, Tagul, Lodochnoe, and Suzun fields.

During the 1970s and 1980s development followed on the Yamal peninsula with the discoveries of the Bovanenkovskoe gas field in 1971, the Kharasavey and South Tambey fields in 1974, and the Rostovtsev oil and gas field in 1986. To this day YaNAO part of the West Siberian oil and gas province remains the largest gas producing region of the world and also provides substantial share of Russia’s oil production.

In 2010 Norway and Russia resolved a 44-year dispute over the border delineation in the Barents Sea. The countries agreed to split the 175,000 square kilometer area under dispute which may contain up to 4 billion barrels of oil and 878 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

The implementation of sanctions by the United States and the European Union against Russia continue to impact the exploration and development of hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic. ExxonMobil signed cooperation agreement with Rosneft for a total of 10 joint ventures, primarily exploration in the Kara and Black Seas as well as the joint development of the Bzhenow shale in West Sibera. Following the sanctions ExxonMobil was required to suspend its activities in the joint ventures. This follows the announcement from September 2014 of successful discovery of petroleum resources at the Kay 1 well in the Kara Sea. Similarly, in June 2015 French energy company Total withdrew from a joint venture with Russia’s Lukoil under which they had planned to develop the Bazheno shale oil fields in West Siberia. The company also chose to return to Gazprom a 25 percent share it held in the postponed Shtokman gas field.

Not affected by western sanctions is the development of the world’s first ice-resistance oil platform Prirazlomnaya which Gazprom constructed in the Pechora Sea. Production of oil began in April 2014.

Northern Sea Route

Development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) began in June 1936 when the Council of People’s Commissar of the former USSR established the Chief Directorate of the Northern Sea Route (Glavsevmorput). The Directorate was tasked with establishing and developing a route from the Barents Sea to the Bering Strait. Its task encompassed the establishment of sea, river and air transportation routes, the required telecommunications infrastructure and the leading of all Soviet research efforts in the Arctic. Furthermore, it also spearheaded the development of natural resources in the Arctic and the construction of required production facilities. In addition, it was also in charge of the promotion of economic development of the indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

During the Cold War the NSR functioned as a vital transportation route supplying local communities spread through the Russian Arctic territory and also presented, as it did in the US and Canada, the northern frontier patrolled by military forces above and below the ice. Following the end of the Cold War, many of the routes of communications deteriorated and associated infrastructure fell in disrepair with the decreasing use of the NSR. Cargo traffic decreased by nearly 90 percent during the 1990s compared to the early 1980s. With the onset of increasingly ice-free summer season, especially after the record melt season of 2007 and 2012 the NSR began a revival as a national and international transport corridor. While volumes remain very limited in comparison to global shipping hotspots like the Suez and Panama Canal, the route nonetheless is of key importance for the economic development of Russian region situated along the route and the accessing, exploitation, and exporting of hydrocarbon resources in the Arctic.

The largest project along the route is the construction of the port of Sabetta and the Yamal LNG gas liquefaction plant at the Gulf of Ob to export natural gas from the South Tambey field to Western Europe and the Asia-Pacific region.

In March 2013 Russia created the Northern Sea Route responsible for organizing the rules and procedures for operating along the NSR. The Administration is responsible for receiving, reviewing as well as granting permits for the navigation on the route. It also sets requirements for safety and environmental standards and functions as the primary organizing body for search and rescue.

Given the importance of the Arctic to the national economic development and due to the centralized nature and domination by state-owned companies of the oil and gas sector, Arctic development and governance are highly centralized, often with direct influence and continuous oversight from Moscow and President Putin. This fact was underlined with the creation of the new federal Arctic Commission in February 2015, which is responsible for coordinating the work of all other bodies engaged in the Arctic, including the National Security Council and the Ministry of Natural Resources, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry for Economic Development, and the Ministry for Transport. The Commission and its approximately 60 officials are tasked with evaluating the effectiveness of existing policy and making decisions related to the regional development.

With the creation of the Commission President Putin aims to create a single responsible agency for the coordination and implementation of Arctic policy. Furthermore, it places more control over Arctic policy and development in the hand of federally appointed officials, such as the Commission’s head, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, rather than regionally elected governors and other officials, further removed from the control of Moscow. The establishment of the Commission comes on the heels of the closure of the Ministry for Regional Development the previous year, which had taken a lead role in the planning and implementation of regional development goals and policy for the Arctic.