The history of development

The global trend towards the multi-vector development of transport routes explains the interest in alternative routes. And the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is one of the most promising options.


Through the path from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. 1525-1900 

It was the beginning of the 16th century. Clerk of the Grand Duke of Moscow Vasily III Dmitry Gerasimov dreamed of finding a sea route from Europe to China. Being a well-read man who traveled a lot in the Russian North, he was sure that “Dvina, carrying countless rivers, rushes in a rapid current to the North ... the sea there has such a huge extent that, according to a very probable assumption, keeping to the right bank, you can get from there by ships to the country of China, if there is no land in between." In 1525 Gerasimov created a map that became known in Europe. However, the technical capabilities of the time excluded the possibility of a through Arctic navigation.

Dezhnev's 1648 expedition proved the existence of a strait between Chukotka and Alaska. And the expedition of the Russian navigator Vitus Bering finally confirmed the fact: there is a strait between Asia and America.

As before, it was unclear if there was a through path from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. The dispute was settled by the expedition of the Norwegian scientist Nils Nordenskiöld, carried out with the support of the Russian merchant and gold miner Alexander Sibiryakov. In 1893, this route was repeated by Fridtjof Nansen, and in 1900 - by the Russian Polar Expedition led by Eduard Toll.


Development of the Northern Sea Route during the Soviet period. 1932-1991

From the first years of the existence of the USSR, the government understood the importance of the development of the NSR. In 1932, the Main Directorate of the Northern Sea Route was created under the Council of People's Commissars of the USSR under the leadership of Otto Schmidt. The management tasks included:

  • development of the transport system
  • construction of port facilities
  • development of industry and northern industries
  • organization of permanent radio and hydrometeorological stations
  • construction of hospitals

Three years later, the first cargo - wood - was delivered from Leningrad to Vladivostok.

During World War II, the ports of Naryan-Mar, Igarka, Dudinka, Dikson, Tiksi became supporting points for the supply of coal, nickel, copper, and wood.

In 1978, the possibility of year-round navigation in the Arctic was proved for the first time. The nuclear-powered icebreaker Siberia sailed from Murmansk to Dudinka, starting its way in May and ending in June.

1987 became a record year for the USSR – almost 7 million tons of cargo was transported along the NSR.


Prospects for the development of the Northern Sea Route. 1991-2030

From 1991 to the early 2000s, the volume of cargo transportation along the NSR steadily decreased, the coastal infrastructure collapsed, and ports disappeared.

In 2008, the Russian nuclear icebreaker fleet was transferred to the jurisdiction of Rosatom, which made it possible to renew the composition of the icebreakers and dispose of the old ones.

In 2012, the law on the Northern Sea Route was adopted, in which they indicated boundaries of the water area of the NSR and delimited the scope of authority. In 2018, the project for the development of the Northern Sea Route until 2024 was approved and the law "On Amendments to Certain Legislative Acts of the Russian Federation" dated December 28, 2018 was adopted. In accordance with it, an infrastructure operator of the Northern Sea Route was created on the basis of the Rosatom corporation.


Rosatom plans to develop the NSR in three stages.

  • By 2024: an increase in the volume of cargo transportation to 80 million tons
  • By 2030: Expanded East and West Navigation
  • After 2030: year-round eastbound cargo transportation using the Leader icebreakers

In 2025, it will be 500 years from the moment Dmitry Gerasimov advanced the idea on the possibility of passage to Asia through the northern seas. During this time, from a theory, the Northern Sea Route has turned into a unique transport corridor, and in the near future it will face an unprecedented transformation.


The Northern Sea Route is:

  • Free access to the wealth of the Arctic shelf and Siberian fields
  • Possibility of uninterrupted provision of the cities of the Arctic coast with goods
  • Thousands of jobs throughout Russia
  • Access of Russian manufacturers to the markets of Southeast Asia

The development of the NSR is a significant project not only for Russia, but for the whole world, and its implementation will take more than one decade. But next generations will use the Northern Sea Route for centuries.