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China to assist Russia with titanium mining in the Arctic

On January 22, it was reported that a major Chinese state-owned enterprise was in discussions with representatives of one of Russia’s mining and metals companies to help develop the massive Pizhemskoye titanium and quartz deposits located in Russia’s Komi Republic near the Arctic Circle. The mining project has been identified as a potential component of the Kremlin’s official ‘Strategy of Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and the Provision of National Security for the Period to 2035’, an investment plan approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin in October 2020. 

The Chinese company’s potential involvement in the project could offer Beijing an opportunity to play a role in two areas of strategic importance and overlap with Moscow’s interests: efforts by Russia to make the necessary investments in the Arctic to build a viable Northern Sea Route, a year-round water passage through the Arctic linking Europe and Asia; and the establishment of long-term access to titanium supplies that are especially important to the aerospace, defence, marine, chemical processing, and automotive industries. 

In the meeting between the Chinese and Russian entities, the two sides reportedly discussed the possibility of exporting titanium ore, iron ore, and quartz from the Pizhemskoye deposits to China for processing. Although China is a leading producer of titanium, it is also a leading importer of titanium ore. Russia also needs titanium imports, reportedly importing much of its raw titanium from Ukraine.

The development of the Pizhemskoye deposit has included the establishment of a national mining and metallurgical cluster for the processing of titanium ore and quartz, plans to develop a deep seaport at Indiga, and the construction of a railway to connect the remote, mineral-rich areas in the Komi Republic and Nenets Autonomous Okrug (NAO) to the Northern Sea Route, with Indiga as the transshipment point.

Before the invasion of Ukraine and the introduction of Western sanctions, plans were in place to secure funding for the Pizhemskoye project from Russian and international banks, with a project completion date of 2026. By some estimates, the cost of the railway alone was between USD5 billion and USD6 billion. The present status of these plans is unclear, but the involvement of China could bring welcome support.