"We Need Icebreakers"... And More Strategic Partnerships

Tyler Durden's Photo
by Tyler Durden
Saturday, Jun 22, 2024 - 11:50 PM

Authored by Pepe Escobar,

The St. Petersburg forum offered a wealth of crucial sessions discussing connectivity corridors. One of the key ones was on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) – or, in Chinese terminology, the Arctic Silk Road: the number one future alternative to the Suez canal.

With an array of main corporate actors in the room – for instance, from Rosneft, Novatek, Norilsk Nickel – as well as governors and ministers, the stage was set for a comprehensive debate.

Top Putin adviser Igor Levitin set the tone: to facilitate seamless container transport, the federal government needs to invest in seaports and icebreakers; a comparison was made – in terms of technological challenge – to the building of the Trans-Siberian railway; and Levitin also stressed the endless expansion possibilities for city hubs such as Murmansk, Archangelsk and Vladivostok.

Add to it that the NSR will connect with another fast-growing trans-Eurasia connectivity corridor: the INSTC (International North South Transportation Corridor), whose main actors are BRICS members Russia, Iran and India.

Alexey Chekunkov, minister for development of the Far East and the Arctic, plugged a trial run of the NSR, which costs the same as railway shipping without the bottlenecks. He praised the NSR as a “service” and coined the ultimate motto: “We need icebreakers!” Russia of course will be the leading player in the whole project, benefitting 2.5 million people who live in the North.

Sultan Sulayem, CEO of Dubai-based cargo logistics and maritime services powerhouse DP World, confirmed that “the current supply chains are not reliable anymore”, as well as being inefficient; the NSR is “faster, more reliable and cheaper”. From Tokyo to London, the route runs for 24k km; via the NSR, it’s only 13k km.

Sulayem is adamant: the NSR is a game-changer and “needs to be implemented now”.

Vladimir Panov, the special representative for the Arctic from Rosatom, confirmed that the Arctic is “a treasure chest”, and the NSR “will unlock it”. Rosatom will have all the necessary infrastructure in place “in five years or so”. He credited the fast pace of developments to the high-level Putin-Xi strategic dialogue – complete with the creation of a Russia-China working group.

Andrey Chibis, the governor of Murmansk, noted that this deep, key port for the NSR – the main container hub in the Arctic – “does not freeze”. He acknowledged the enormity of the logistical challenges – but at the same time that will attract a lot of skilled workers, considering the high quality of life in Murmansk.

A maze of interconnected corridors

The building of the NSR indeed can be interpreted as a 21st century, accelerated version of the building of the Trans-Siberian railway in the late 19th/early 20th century. Under the overarching framework of Eurasia integration, the interconnections with other corridors will be endless – from the INSTC to BRI projects part of the Chinese New Silk Roads, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) and ASEAN.

In a session focused on the Greater Eurasia Partnership (GEP) Russian Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander Pankin praised this concept of Eurasia “without dividing lines, uniting ancient civilizations, transportation corridors and a unified common space of 5 billion people”.

Inevitable connections were drawn – from GEP to the EAEU and the SCO, with the proliferation of multimodal transport and alternative payment systems. Khan Sohail, the deputy secretary-general of the SCO, remarked how virtually “everyday there are new announcements by China” – a long way “since the SCO was established 21 years ago”, then based exclusively on security. Big developments are expected at the SCO summit next month in Astana.

Sergey Glazyev, the minister of macroeconomics at the Eurasia Economic Commission, part of the EAEU, praised the EAEU-SCO progressive integration and fast-developing transactions in baskets of national currencies, something “that was unchallengeable 10 years ago”.

He admitted that even if GEP has not been formalized yet, facts on the ground are proving that Eurasia can be self-sufficient. GEP may be on the initial stage, but it’s fast advancing the process to “harmonize free trade”.

Another key session in St. Petersburg was exactly on the EAEU-ASEAN connection. The ASEAN 10 already configure the 4th largest trading bloc in the world, moving $3.8 trillion and 7.8% of global trade annually. The EAEU already has a free trade agreement (FTA) with Vietnam and is clinching another with Indonesia.

And then there’s Northeast Asia. Which brings us to the ground-breaking visit by President Putin to the DPRK.

A new concept of Eurasia security

This was quite the epic business trip. Russia and the DPRK signed no less than a new Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Agreement.

On trade, that will allow a renewed flux to Russia of DPRK weapons – artillery shells to ballistics -, magnetic ore, heavy industry and machine tool industry, as well as the back-and-forth of an army of mega-skilled IT specialists.

Kim Jong-un described the agreement as “peaceful” and “defensive”. And much more: it will become “the driving force accelerating the creation of a new multipolar world.”

When it comes to Northeast Asia, the agreement is nothing less than a total paradigm shift.

To start with, these are two independent, sovereign foreign policy actors. They will not blackmailed. They totally oppose sanctions as a hegemonic tool. In consequence, they have just determined there will be no more UN Security Council sanctions on the DPRK enacted by the U.S..

The key clause establishing mutual assistance in case of foreign aggression against either Russia or the DPRK means, in practice, the establishment of a military-political alliance – even as Moscow, cautiously, prefers to phrase that it “does not exclude the possibility of military-technical cooperation”.

The agreement completely shocked Exceptionalistan because it is a swift counterpunch not only against NATO’s global designs but against the Hegemon itself, which for decades has enforced a comprehensive military-political alliance with both Japan and South Korea.

Translation: from now on there is no more military-political Hegemony in Northeast Asia – and in Asia-Pacific as a whole. Beijing will be delighted. Talk about a strategic game-changer. Accomplished without a single bullet being fired.

The repercussions will be immense, because a broader concept of “security” will now apply equally to Europe and Asia.

So welcome, in practice, to Putin the statesman advancing a new integrated, comprehensive concept of Eurasian security (italics mine). No wonder the mentally-impaired collective West is stunned.

Gilbert Doctorow correctly observed how “Putin considers what NATO is about to do at its Western borders as the very act of aggression that will trigger Russia’s Strategic Partnership with North Korea and present the United States with a live threat to its military bases” in Korea, in Japan and in the wider Asia-Pacific.

And it doesn’t matter at all if the Russian response will be symmetric or asymmetric. The crucial fact is that the U.S. “containment” of the Russia-China strategic partnership is already unravelling in real time.

In auspicious terms, Eurasia-style, what matters now is to focus on connectivity corridors. This is a story that started in previous editions of the St. Petersburg forum: how to connect the DPRK to the Russian Far East, and beyond to Siberia and wider Eurasia. The DPRK’s founding concept of Juche (“self-reliance”, “autonomy”) is about to enter a whole new era – in parallel to the NSR consolidation in the Arctic.

Everyone indeed needs icebreakers – in more ways than one.