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From Mother Earth to Mother Russia - How Climate Change is Making Russia a Superpower

Updated: Oct 31, 2022

"A golden opportunity for Russia is buried under the ice caps, which are now melting"

The world is on the verge of a massive conversion in how humanity will sustain itself on this planet. Climate Change is often referred to as the forthcoming nightmare for humanity. Climate change is not an unknown phenomenon to us. But there is a relatively strange and surprising part of this plight that is not bad for some nations. The equatorial countries are already witnessing the first signs of this impending disaster which is even worse in the case of Indonesia, which is planning to shift its capital to a yet to be built city as Jakarta shows premature signs of submerging underwater.

While this has proven to be an apprehensive situation for these nations, not every country will be impacted evenly, and some are even set to benefit from global climate change. According to a report by IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the rising temperature is detrimental for temperate and tropical regions. Still, it may create new opportunities for polar region nations. And no country may be better positioned to capitalise on climate change than Russia. The Arctic nation has every factor it requires to profit from Climate Change, at least on paper.

Image credits: Forbes


Russia's eastern half (Siberia) is known for prolonged and severe winters, making it unsuited for agricultural activities. Still, due to a significant temperature rise, the region is witnessing substantive changes in this trend. It wouldn't be wrong to say that temperature rise, desertification, change in rainfall patterns and rise in sea levels may render many agriculturally prosperous regions as future wastelands and cause a massive food security crisis; it might also make Siberia the future hub of agricultural activities. Siberia is one of the biggest land masses on earth and comprises almost 9% of the earth’s total landmass.

Russian Climate Ecologist Nadezhda Tchebokova states that Russia's permafrost will be reduced to half by 2080 and will be suitable for agriculture. Russia already is the largest producer of Barley and Oats and the third-largest producer of wheat. Nearly 1/4th of the wheat in the world is produced in Russia. Russia already is a significant producer of food grains. With the increasing rate of climate change, it is set to increase its food production capacity, hugely impacting a future world full of food security crises.


The US Geological Survey estimates that around 13% of global untapped oil reserves and 30% of natural gas reserves are located in the Arctic. And no wonder the Arctic has been termed as 'Russia's backyard'. As permafrost decreases and technological innovation increases.

Russia will be able to extract these resources far more efficiently than any other nation on earth. Russia is already the world's second-largest producer of Natural gas and Europe's largest supplier of natural gas. As in the future, the oil resources of the middle east will shrink, and the mineral resources of Russia will significantly be more available for exploitation giving Russia a significant upper hand in Geopolitics. There is also 15% of rare earth elements in Russia, and further reserves are also estimated under the Siberian permafrost.

Image credits: EUSP


Despite having the fourth longest coastline in the world, Russia's access to world oceans is significantly limited due to the freezing winters and temporary closure of the majority of its ports. However, the situation seems to be changed by 2030 as the Arctic is predicted to remain relatively ice-free, opening brand new trade routes for the world and Russia, the Northern Sea Route being the primary among them. If implemented successfully, the Northern Sea Route will reduce the distance of maritime travel from Shanghai to Europe by 18000 Kms to 10500 Kms and also decrease the transit time from 40 days to 22 days, which is enormous when we realise the amount of maritime traffic this will affect.

Another concerning fact is that most of the maritime area of the Northern Sea Route falls under the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone. If travel through this route is made possible, then some of the global choke points like the Suez Canal and the Strait of Malacca will lose their present significance. Also, China being a significant supporter of Russia's Arctic efforts, will benefit immensely from the opening of this new route. In 2017 Russian President Vladimir Putin himself had accepted that the melting ice in the Arctic is beneficial for Russia.


According to 'The New York Times' report, nearly 300 crore people will be living in harsher climate zones by 2070. This, combined with the global food security crisis and rising sea levels, will trigger a new 'Climate-Induced Migration', which will eventually lead to the redistribution of the global population and, in that particular case Siberia with its large area, low population density, and prosperous agriculture may come up as the top destination for immigrants to land in which will, in turn, increase Russia's workforce that it will require for numerous purpose.


While major American powerhouses are located near the coasts and are highly vulnerable to rising sea levels, it's not the case for Russia. The majority of its population centres and powerhouses are located deep inside Russian territory and far away from the effects of rising sea levels. St. Petersburg and Vladivostok are among a few which might be affected by the rising sea level. This will significantly limit Russia's climate change mitigation cost compared to the US and other powers.


A US Department of Defence analysis in 2018 estimates that 1,700 US military installations may require to be relocated due to sea-level rise and extreme climate. Providing Russia with a golden ticket to overshadow the foreign influence of the US in the coming future. While the US's bases worldwide are facing the threat of submergence, Russia, with the North Pole in its backyard, is working to consolidate its ascendancy in the area alongside the Chinese.

In 2017, for the first time, a Russian tanker passed through the Arctic Ocean without a need for icebreakers. Russia has already beefed up its civilian presence in the region, and its military presence has reached a level not seen since the Cold War. Army bases abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union have been renovated and restaffed; according to Russia’s Defense Ministry, 475 new military facilities have been built in the area since 2012. Recently a new polar brigade was established, clearly indicating Russia's serious interests in the region. Also, Russia’s most advanced air-defence system, the S-400 missile system, has been deployed both along the shores of the Arctic Ocean and on several islands in the region.

Image credits: FP


With strong and stable leadership in place mixed with the declining West, Russia is an ideal contender for pressing dominance in a future world that the effects of Climate Change will shape. At the moment, President Vladimir Putin remains firmly in charge in Russia, a position that he has held for the past two decades. No political leader in Moscow has enjoyed such a monopoly on power since Joseph Stalin. Rebuilding Russia’s international standing and returning the country to great power status has been the key driver of President Putin’s policies since he took office.

But currently, Russia faces numerous complications which are to be addressed. Perhaps most importantly, it will have to diversify and modernise its economy if it has any chance of competing with today’s superpowers, the United States and China. While Russia is struggling with these problems, the US, China and other potential rivals are rapidly modernising and diversifying their economies. However, compensation to it comes from Russia remaining a geographic and environmental superpower thanks to its vast land area and its resources.

Some of these resources could dramatically increase in value in the coming years due to Climate Change which, ironically for many other countries, is a threat to their existence. This development could help reverse Russia’s economic decline. If Russia aims to return to the status of a global superpower, it is likely to be on the back of its immense resources, territory and the new Climate Pattern in the years to come.

In fact, this may be the last vestige of the time when Russia was a leading global player, and maybe it's only hope of one day regaining that status.





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