You shall not pass: Russia changes rules for foreign warships navigating through its Arctic

You shall not pass: Russia changes rules for foreign warships navigating through its Arctic
Russia is updating its navigation rules for a contingency involving another nation’s warships attempting to sail along the Northern Sea Route. Such a passage would require prior notification from the Defense Ministry.

The route, situated in the Arctic along Russia’s northern coast, is becoming more accessible to sea traffic as the climate warms. With longer navigation seasons and fewer ice hazards, Russia hopes the path will be increasingly in demand for international commercial transit. Such navigation however more often than not requires Russia’s cooperation, since an icebreaker usually is needed to pass through.

There is however a potential source of problems with Russia’s northern side becoming more accessible. Foreign military ships may travel it too, even those lacking ice protection, as was proven by the Loire-class offshore support and assistance ship of the French Navy Rhône in October. It took the ship 17 days to traverse the route and she didn’t ask for Russian icebreaker assistance for it.

Starting next year, Russia will require military ships traveling through Russian Arctic to give prior notification to the Defense Ministry, according to Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the National Defense Management Center. He said amendments to the rules of navigation will be adopted before next year’s Arctic navigation season starts, RIA Novosti reported.

The Northern Sea Route requires going through Russian territorial waters, giving it the authority to set rules for passing ships.

Technically, international laws of the sea allow warships the right of innocent passage through foreign territorial waters under certain conditions. The right however may become tricky to put into practice, as evidenced by the famous 1988 bumping incident in the Black Sea, which involved a Soviet and a US military ship, or the latest flare-up between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.

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