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.