Viktoriya Nikitina

This paper considers the geographical changes enabled by sea ice melting in the Arctic Ocean, which provide higher accessibility to energy resources and shipping routes, and seeks to understand how Russia benefits from the uncertainties in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and in the International Code for Ships Operating in Polar Waters (Polar Code) as a coercion mechanism to limit freedom of navigation in the Northern Sea Route (NSR). The Arctic is a region of strategic and geopolitical importance for Russia, therefore all the possibilities enabled by climate change should be enjoyed. However, with increased accessibility to the Arctic Ocean, Russia seeks to control navigation in the NSR and ensure the protection of its national interest, through coercion of navigation. This paper discusses the uncertainties that enable Russia to consider the UNCLOS as a coercion mechanism, namely the ambiguity of Article 234, the uncertainty of international straits criteria, and the limitations in the Polar Code. It argues that the uncertainties and different interpretations in the law of the sea can influence the Russian legislation over the NSR by limiting freedom of navigation and implementing prejudicial measures toward foreign-flagged vessels. Nonetheless, through the Russian naval power, the Border Guard Service (BGS) and the Northern Fleet of the Russian Federation (Northern Fleet), and its effect of dissuasion based on sea control and sea denial activities, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation (Ministry of Transport) can effectively ensure compliance with the Russian legal regime in the NSR and avoid infringements to the law.

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