Russia’s MegaFon Begins Survey Work on Trans-Arctic Subsea Fiber-Optic Cable Project

On July 23, Russia’s sec­ond-largest telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­ny, Mega­fon, dis­closed that it had launched off­shore sur­vey work for a planned $1 bil­lion trans-Arc­tic sub­sea fiber-optic cable project that will con­nect Europe and Asia. Begin­ning on August 5, the sur­veys will report­ed­ly be under­tak­en by MegaFon’s joint ven­ture with Finnish firm, Cinia, and Russ­ian-state-owned enter­prise, Ros­ge­olo­gia. The two-phase sur­vey is intend­ed to deter­mine an opti­mal route for the Arc­tic cable by 2021.

The broad design of the project is for the fiber optic cable to tra­verse the coastal areas of Fin­land, Nor­way, the Russ­ian Arc­tic, and onwards to Japan.  Some reports also indi­cate that the cable will have a land­ing point in Chi­na, and, indeed, state-owned Chi­na Tele­com has con­sis­tent­ly expressed inter­est in work­ing with Cinia on this project (although there has been lit­tle tan­gi­ble evi­dence of Chi­nese par­tic­i­pa­tion in the project to date).  The Russ­ian media and Russ­ian com­men­ta­tors, how­ev­er, have again recent­ly allud­ed to the inter­est of “Mega­fon’s  Chi­nese part­ners” in the con­text of the upcom­ing sur­veys.

Once com­plet­ed, the Arc­tic Con­nect project will report­ed­ly be the short­est cable route between Europe and Asia and is thus expect­ed to improve telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions con­nec­tiv­i­ty between the two con­ti­nents. Although some observers are skep­ti­cal that the project will tru­ly achieve this objec­tive, the con­sor­tium said the project will add “geo­graph­ic diver­si­ty” to the world’s exist­ing inter­net cable net­works.

Although Mega­fon is not oper­at­ed by the state, the company’s major­i­ty own­er Alish­er Usman­ov is report­ed­ly close to Pres­i­dent Putin, and a group of U.S. sen­a­tors have advo­cat­ed in the past for his inclu­sion in U.S. sanc­tions.