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Putin vows to develop Arctic transport for energy, strategy

MOSCOW, May 2 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin said Wednesday Russia should develop transport in the Arctic to support future energy projects and Russia's strategic interests.

Speaking onboard a nuclear icebreaker to be used by energy producers, the president said this should be done in an environmentally friendly way, citing "the vulnerable natural environment" there.

"Considering the projected increase in hydrocarbon transport to 40 million tons by 2015, we are going to need to develop our Arctic transportation system. This should be done in an environmentally balanced way: we know how vulnerable the local environment is. The broader issue will be to promote Russia's strategic interests in the Arctic, its economic, academic, and defense interests [there]," Putin said.

His audience included members of the State Council and Maritime Board, the government coordinator agency for maritime policies.

Putin also called for a speedy recovery of the Russian commercial fleet and the upgrading of its port infrastructure. In response, Sergei Darkin, the governor of the Far Eastern region of Primorie, said at least 350 vessels (9 million tons deadweight) would be needed to handle 50% of Russia's sea commerce by the Russian-owned fleet by 2020.

High Arctic territories, seen as key to huge untapped natural resources, have increasingly been at the center of mounting disputes between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark in recent years as the global warming caused the ice to thaw. For Russia, the key infrastructure there is its 3,500-nautical mile Northern Sea Route connecting its European with Asian ports.

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