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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Arctic ice cover receded to near record lows this summer, opening elusive northern trade routes from Asia to the West, Russia's climate research agency said on Wednesday.

After the third hottest year on record since 1936 in the Arctic last year, ice cover has melted as much as 56 percent more than average across northern shipping routes, making navigation in the perilous waters "very easy," it said.

"Since the beginning of August icebreaker-free sailing is open on almost all the routes," the climate monitoring agency said on its website www.meteoinfo.ru.

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