Arctic: Northern bifurcation? | Latest news The Moscow Post
01 December 2023

Arctic: Northern bifurcation?

A little about the "temperature" contrasts of Arctic policy.

The Arctic region has recently attracted general attention. Moscow adopted state programs for the development of this part of Russia, launched the construction of an icebreaker fleet. The accident in the Suez Canal aroused interest in the Northern Sea Route.

The Arctic is recognized as an important part of the world by China and Japan, Turkey will receive an order for the construction of a floating dock for Russian nuclear icebreakers. French Total is proud of its participation in the Yamal LNG and Arctic LNG-2 projects, the correspondent of The Moscow Post reports.

The US Geological Survey believes that up to 22% of the world's natural gas and oil reserves can be located in the polar region. According to Russian estimates, up to 80% of the Arctic's estimated hydrocarbon reserves are located in the Russian Far North, including on the shelves of the Barents and Kara Seas.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov took part in the XII ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavik on May 19-20. Russia led this forum for two years, proposed a plan for a ten-year perspective, including economic and scientific cooperation. But life has prepared the chairman country for "temperature contrasts" to become swings in Arctic weather!

The task of the Arctic Council, which was created in 1996, is considered cooperation in ecology and sustainable development. But the forum remains one of the few platforms for Russia's contacts with the United States and its allies. The Arctic Council, in addition to the United States, includes Canada, Norway and Denmark, as well as Finland, Sweden and Iceland. These three countries can be called neutral conditionally. Their real influence is small, but "democratic values" actually make them drift towards NATO.

With permafrost weapons

On the sidelines of the May meeting in Reykjavik, the heads of diplomatic departments agreed on a meeting of the presidents of Russia and the United States. Russia's policy is that there is no potential for conflict in the Arctic. Moreover, the Declaration of the XII Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic States reaffirmed the commitment to peace, stability and constructive cooperation. In Washington, meanwhile, "other pipes" have notified that warming and melting ice are turning the Arctic into an arena of competition, a "new theater of conflict," where NATO should deter both Russia and even China.

Russia supports the observance of conventions, the preservation of the region as a zone of peace, stability and cooperation, as reflected in the Ottawa Declaration of 1996, confirmed in the statement of the Ministers of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi in 2019.

Sadly, the streamlined optimism of the declarations breaks down about the real policies of member countries. Russia, as chairman, was in the company of fellow opponents and open ill-wishers.

After 2015, NATO doubled the number of military exercises and other combat training activities in the Arctic with the participation of non-Arctic countries, as well as non-alliance states. In the Norwegian and Barents Seas, the duration of the presence of submarines and surface ships of the US Navy has increased. In the polar waters, regular group campaigns of NATO fleet warships are recorded. The provocative nature was the call in May 2020 to the Barents Sea of ​ ​ the strike group of NATO ships under the pretext of "ensuring freedom of navigation."

All power to the councils

The accompanying "Arctic ties" also tie Moscow to European "Arctic partners," including the following advisory organizations:

- Barents/EuroArctic Region Council (SBER). Established in 1993 as an interaction body between Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Finland, Sweden and the Commission of the European Communities.

- Arctic Economic Council (NPP). Represents the interests of the business community of the Arctic regions, unites the corporate structures of Russia, Sweden, the USA, Canada, Finland, Iceland, Denmark and Norway.

- The Northern Dimension Organization (SI) brings together the European Union, Russia, Norway and Iceland. The Republic of Belarus participates in some aspects of cooperation, the United States and Canada have observer status. XI implements the EU environmental strategy for the Baltic Sea region.

The situation is paradoxical. On the one hand, Russia's relations with the European Union were at zero point, as stated by Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko. He added that the dialogue became "a hostage to the EU's political decision to link relations with the implementation of the Minsk agreements." On the other hand, Russia will have to develop cooperation in the Arctic with not only the European Union, but also NATO. At the same time, conflict potential is growing in the region.

In 2009, Finland, Sweden and Iceland became the founders of NORDEFCO (Nordic Defense Cooperation). Under this auspices, the Arctic Challenge Exercise air force exercises are held, provocative, according to the Russian Foreign Ministry. Strengthening NATO on the northern flank is part of plans to concentrate US forces and their allies in Europe within the framework of the American four-thirty concept.

The Arctic Council is, according to the chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials Nikolai Korchunov, a "civil cooperation forum." Another definition is the leading intergovernmental forum for cooperation, coordination and interaction between Arctic States, indigenous communities and Arctic peoples.

"Civilian," in the definition of Korchunov - "not military." But Russia, in order to prevent the deterioration of the military-political situation, according to Korchunov, proposes to resume annual meetings of the chiefs of general staff or military experts of the Arctic states as a confidence and security measure. Such a dialogue could discuss such issues as the establishment of operational cooperation to prevent incidents in areas beyond the territorial sea, search and rescue operations at sea, and other measures.

When Europe Wants, but Cannot

The priority of the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council is the development of safe navigation in the Arctic, including the Northern Sea Route. Presidency of Russia also has to promote connections with the Arctic forum of the coast guards, the University of the Arctic, Council of the Barentseva-Euroarktichesky region, "Northern measurement", programs of border and cross-border cooperation.

The Ministry of Eastern Development of Russia has developed a draft decree of the President of Russia "On the rehabilitation of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation from flooded and sunken facilities with spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste," as well as a plan of measures in these areas. The coordinator of the work will be Rosatom.

Cooperation on monitoring and neutralization of hazardous facilities is the subject of international cooperation. This work is carried out within the framework of the "nuclear window" of the Northern Dimension partnership and may include the lifting and disposal of flooded nuclear submarines.

The European Union, which wants to receive observer status in the Arctic Council, most likely will not receive it, but may contribute to the elimination of accumulated environmental damage, including in the field of radiation safety through the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

Enough space for everyone

Russia adheres to the line of diplomatic resolution of disputed issues, including territorial differences, as recorded by the "five" coastal Arctic states in the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration, and was confirmed in subsequent statements. Moscow does not consider it necessary to raise the topic of militarization within the framework of the chairmanship of the council. To protect the northern borders of Russia, a number of programs are being implemented in the Arctic, the structure of the Armed Forces is changing, and infrastructure is being built. In 2013-2020, 791 buildings and structures were commissioned.

For Russia, the main task of the Arctic Council is the sustainable development of the region, concern for the fate of the indigenous small peoples of Ugra, Yamal, Yakutia, Nenets, Chukotka Autonomous Districts, Krasnoyarsk Territory, the preservation of their languages ​ ​ and cultural traditions. The procedure for compensation for losses caused to indigenous small peoples of the North was approved, the Standard for Liability of Industrial Companies was developed, and the Public Council of the Arctic Zone for the Observance of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was formed. A programme to support traditional economic activities has been developed.

These are the tasks of the federal center and regional authorities, but Russian diplomats have prepared a program of action designed for 10 years for the entire region: "The chairmanship of the Russian Federation in the Arctic Council in 2021-2023. Priority Program. " The proposals include environmental activities, transport, telecommunications, scientific activities, infrastructure financing and socio-economic development, emergency response. It is assumed that the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council will be held under the slogan "Responsible management for the sustainable Arctic." A meeting of ministers of environmental protection, the Arctic Meteorological Summit, the Third Congress on Biodiversity is planned.

At the center of the section "Economic Cooperation" are the issues of energy security of the region, innovation and a smart economy, improving the conditions for investment, entrepreneurship and business finance. It is possible to create the Arctic Sustainable Development Fund to solve the tasks of the Paris climate agreement, the goals of sustainable development, and the implementation of development strategies for the northern territories.

The plans of the world's leading countries in high latitudes are related to access to the Arctic, its wealth, and in the future, transport opportunities. Russia acts as a "guide" for non-Arctic countries. For China and Japan, for example, there is a scheme for financial participation in Russian Novatek LNG projects.

In a word - there is enough space for everyone.

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