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Arctic Yearbook 2012
In cases when the convoys are forced by sea ice to enter the high sea, prominent Soviet ocean law
experts have claimed that the navigation lanes used are national and under full Russian control and
jurisdiction: “[t]he integral nature of the Northern Sea Route as a transport route is not affected by
the fact that individual portions of it, at one time or another, may pass outside the aforesaid
boundaries (i.e. boundaries of internal waters, territorial waters and economic zone) where the USSR
exercises its sovereign rights or sovereignty in full (i.e. it may pass into the high seas)” (Kolodkin and
Kolosov 1990: 164). Thus, as long as part of the voyage includes waters under Russian jurisdiction,
the Russian Federation has, according to this reasoning, the right to define the NSR to include sea-
lanes running beyond its own economic zone in high latitudes, even close to the North Pole. In
principle, this implies that all conceivable lanes south of the North Pole, and even across the Pole
itself, might be part of the NSR as long as the voyage passes through North Russian coastal waters.
In line with this reasoning, Russian scientists, employed by the Federation, recently claimed that
“[v]oyages along the NSR are carried out along coastal, marine, high-latitudinal and near-pole routes.
Coastal routes are the most traditional”… whereas “the fourth route, which is 700 miles shorter than
the coastal route, passes the large circle across the geographical North Pole” (Johannessen et al.
2007: 21-23). In this interpretation, the NSR overlaps with the TPP, covering huge expanses of the
high seas that according to the
UN Convention of the Law of the Sea of 1982
(UNCLOS) is open to all
nations and where ships are subject to flag state jurisdiction only (see section “The Transpolar
Passage”, below).
The NSR is also part of an interconnected rectangular transportation system for the Russian North.
The legs of the rectangle consist of, in addition to the passage itself, the big Siberian rivers and the
east-west running railways in the south connecting with the rivers thousands of miles from the coast.
Ocean-going vessels sail from the port of Igarka, which is 670 km south of the estuary of Yenisei,
and to Yakutsk, which is 1160 km south of Igarka. The rivers of Ob, Yenisei, Lena and Kolyma are
all navigable to the Trans-Siberian railway which is 2270 km south of the Siberian coast. The river
Lena connects with the Baikal-Amur railway (Østreng, 1991: 14-15). Thus, “[t]he NSR and the river
system is the primary mode of transportation in this remote part of the world apart from airborne
transportation. Nearly all human activity in the Russian Arctic is in some way dependent on the
NSR” (Simonsen, 1996: 73). In this interpretation the NSR extends northward and southward from
the coast, servicing huge ocean and land territories, covering thousands of kilometres from the near-
North pole route to the railways of the south.