9 July 2011, 16:01

Arctic - area of enhanced responsibility

Arctic - area of enhanced responsibility
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The protection of national interests and cooperation in the Arctic, as well as the delimitation of Polar Regions, has come under active discussion this past week. The NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned against unleashing a new cold war in the Arctic. Russia has again opted for peace dialogue.

The protection of national interests and cooperation in the Arctic, as well as the delimitation of Polar Regions, has come under active discussion this past week. The NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has warned against unleashing a new cold war in the Arctic. Russia has again opted for peace dialogue. This country hopes that the expedition aboard the Academician Fyodorov research vessel that started on Monday will help ensure a fair border demarcation in the Arctic. The Voice of Russia has more.

In recent years, the Arctic has become one of the main geopolitical centres, says the Director of the Centre for European Security Tatyana Parkhalina in an interview with the Voice of Russia, and elaborates.

"Some countries grew keenly interested in the Arctic some five or six years ago, Tatyana Parkhalina says. The interest was prompted by global climate change and Arctic snow melting. Also, the region boasts important mineral resources. Those that are mostly interested are, of course, the Arctic states, of which Russia is one. NATO held a conference on the development of the Arctic in Reykjavik three years ago."

New technologies likewise boost interest in the Arctic, since now it is possible to mine for hydrocarbons from the Arctic Seabed, (the region boasts at least a quarter of world deposits of hydrocarbons), and also o lay new cheaper sea routes. Great profits will shape an altogether different policy, one that may result in a military standoff, says the editor-in-chief of the National Defence magazine Igor Korotchenko, and elaborates.

"Global warming, Igor Korotchenko says, may result in new large ice-free water areas that could be used for free passage via the Arctic Ocean and for minimizing shipping costs. But internationally, Arctic territories are disputed, so the Arctic countries are building up their military might in the region. The United States, Canada and other polar states have drastically galvanized their effort to that end. Even China has been sending icebreaker expeditions to the Arctic now and again."

China says it will commission a second icebreaker in 2013 to send expeditions to the Arctic and the Antarctic. Japan, Malaysia and Thailand have also shown interest in the Arctic and have even tried to impose their own terms of interaction in the region, says the Head of the Centre for North European and Baltic Research of the Russian Foreign Ministry’s MGIMO University, Lev Voronkov, and elaborates.

"The non-Arctic countries have no legal basis to claim the continental shelf, Lev Voronkov says, still they are eager to get their own piece of cake, so they are trying to create a new legal status for the Arctic, similar to the one that’s in effect in the Antarctic, - international governance. But this is at variance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Under the Convention, it is only the coastal countries that have the right to the adjacent continental shelf."

The recent developments prove the need for Russia’s speedy consolidation of the right to the part of the region that this country lays claim to. Under international law, it is only water from the Kola Peninsula to the Arctic Pole to the Bering Strait that Russia has the right to at present. The Academician Fyodorov expedition will now have to prove that Russia also has the right to the shelf and therefore to the entrails. The expedition will last for two months, during which time scientists on board the vessel will take seismic measurements to determine the thickness of bed deposits. The results of the research, as well as those of last year’s expedition will underlie the report that Russia will submit to the United Nations in 2014 as a claim to the shelf. But Russia already has sufficient evidence to prove the possession of the shelf, since the issue was studied in Soviet times, says Professor, Doctor of Geology and Mineralogy Igor Davidenko, and elaborates.

"Back in 1984, Igor Davidenko says, the Soviet Union made public a map showing that two ridges are the continuation of our continent. This can be disputed now because a lot of water has flown under the bridge since. But the right of primogeniture should be proven. We should lift earth material samples and compare them with those on the US and Greenland shores. And thus prove that the Lomonosov ridge is part of the Siberian structure."

But it is not impossible that the world community may delay recognition of Russia’s right to the shelf. It already did so once, back in 2001, alleging the lack of evidence. Tatyana Parkahlina feels that this is due to the fact that the world traditionally grows cautious whenever Russia grows active.

"Russia has tried to establish its presence in the region, Tatyana Parkhalina says, by sending expeditions there. But the world community is afraid of a military and political development of the region."

This past week has offered another graphic example of the western countries’ stand on Russia. First, the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the development of Arctic territories was one of Russia’s priorities.

"Russia will clearly build up its presence in the Arctic, Vladimir Putin says. We are open for dialogue with our neighbours in the Arctic region, of course, but we will defend our geopolitical interests firmly and consistently. We will set up border infrastructure, weather forecasting stations, as well as systems to monitor nature and bio-resources in the region."

Putin also said Russia would add two more military brigades to the existing one in the Arctic. Canada responded in a matter of days by saying it would hold large-scale war games in the Arctic in August. This prompted some experts to describe the situation as the outbreak of another “Arctic”-cold war. Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Secretary-General of NATO, of which Canada is part, had to make a statement that the alliance does not seek presence in the Arctic, although some member-states do have their interests there. Anders Fogh Rasmussen voiced hope that all the interested parties will settle their controversies peacefully.

Russian-Norwegian relations are an example of this kind of constructive and peaceful cooperation. On July 7th, a treaty came into force that put an end to the almost 40-year long territorial dispute in the area of Spitsbergen Island. The signatories proved that problems of such a scale call for a perfectly weighted approach, and it may take years to reach a consensus.

At present, Russia as an Arctic nation boasts a number of strategic advantages, such as a powerful icebreaker fleet that also comprises six nuclear-powered icebreakers; such as seaports and the entire required infrastructure to explore and develop the Arctic. The Northern Sea Route is Russia’s national asset and the shortest way from Europe to Asia. For this reason, Russia will play the core role in an Arctic settlement.

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