25 January 2014, 23:40

Russia in Arctic dimension

Russia in Arctic dimension

The Arctic is in the zone of Russia’s special interests. During the last week, the Russian authorities, experts and the international community were actively engaged in the issues of developing the Arctic region. President Vladimir Putin held a meeting on the issue of military presence in the Arctic; leading political scientists and scholars participated in a round table discussion of the development of infrastructure in the Arctic; and the International Maritime Organization announced an adoption of the Polar Code in the coming days.

During his working trip to one of the key defense enterprises in the Tula region - the Design Bureau of Instrument Engineering - Vladimir Putin discussed the issues of protecting the state in the Arctic latitudes with representatives of the military-industrial complex. It’s not a secret that a conflict is swelling between the countries making bids for the development of this territory rich of hydrocarbons and having a unique transit potential. Last year, Putin urged the Ministry of Defense "to pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic direction." Today, the military industry is ready to supply the Defense Department with weapons that may be required in Northern latitudes.

Russia considers the struggle for resources in the Arctic region to be if not among the most serious threats, but at least among those, to which an attention should be paid. And indeed, the global warming and the melting of the polar ice have substantially increased interest in the region on the part of subarctic states. Next to Russia, the US announced the increasing of its military presence in the Arctic. In these circumstances, Moscow needs to adhere to the course that was chosen during the Soviet times, member of the Federation Council Nikolay Fedoryak says.

"Back then, a serious contingent of Soviet troops was present in the Arctic. The troops located there mainly defended us from a possible air attack of the enemy. It’s not a secret that all strategic routes of US bombers were laid through the North Pole. Now, American capabilities of using high-precision weapons are significantly higher than in 1970-80ies. Therefore, it is inevitable that we need to restore the infrastructure and even do it on a higher level, so that we can protect our national interests. And if we don't do it now, we may be late."

The industry is already producing military equipment with characteristics that allow it to operate in extreme conditions of the Arctic. One of these systems – the missile air defense complex Pantsir-S1 adapted to operate in Artic climates - was shown to the head of state in Tula. And in Moscow, at a round table "The Arctic and the Interests of National Security", leading experts stated that the development of infrastructure in this strategically important region was one of the priorities of Russia. Forming of the Russian armed forces there will be completed this year. Their task is not only to ensure national security, but also to solve economic, communicational and even inter-state problems. Expert of the Center for International Security Andrey Zagorsky has outlined the main directions of Russia’s efforts in the Arctic.

The main tasks for providing Russia’s security in the Arctic region are connected with restoring border control and creating coast-guard forces and search-and-rescue centers. And even those things that are being done in the militarily context fit into the multifunctional picture, because even those aerodromes that are being rebuilt are of dual purpose. This is a part of the strategic infrastructure that can and will be used for other purposes, including by the Ministry of Emergency Situations, border guards, and other services. The main component of the national security in the Arctic is, for example, issues relating to safety of navigation and response to emergency situations, which probability increases with the expansion of economic activities.

In addition to political and military components of Russia's presence in the Arctic, there is also a very powerful economic factor. The matter concerns transportation facilities of the region. Here is what Vice-President of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems Konstantin Sivkov says:

"Our railway communication has a high working capacity, but it has already become insufficient in terms of providing communication interest between the EU and Asia, which is now actively rising. The interest in this is great today. And it is not even essential if there is warming or not. The creation of a more powerful icebreaker fleet will ensure the year-round navigation of vessels. Different countries are eager to exploit the Arctic region as a cheap communication path. The fact that China has begun the construction of its icebreaker fleet is an evidenced of this. And the movement of ships through the complicated Arctic basin without an adequate support of ice patrols and search-and-rescue services is unthinkable in principle."

Russia puts great hopes on the development of the Northern Sea Route, which may become the most popular route from Europe to Asia. Its use will be strictly regulated in two years. The International Maritime Organization has announced its readiness to adopt the Polar Code of shipping. It will define international standards of the use of the Arctic for transportation purposes. The voluminous document will define in details what vessels and their crews, whose route passes above the 72nd parallel north, can and cannot do.

Until now, strange as it may seem, there were no international conventions regulating navigation in the Arctic. In other words, the same rules as those applied to the Adriatic Sea or in the Mediterranean with their mild climate were applied to the severe Northern region. However, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982 stated that each state could introduce its own rules of Arctic shipping, head of the Center of Maritime Law Vasily Gutsulyak says.

"The international community can establish provisions on the environmental protection in Northern areas. Thus, it provides a carte blanche to extend the application of a number of international conventions to the Arctic. But the Polar Code quite clearly determines the order of requirements to vessels."

Passions around the Arctic are running high in recent years. And all because its exact boundaries are not defined until now. The region is divided into five sectors of responsibility between Russia, the US, Norway, Canada and Denmark. But there are others wishing to develop rich Arctic resources. Among them there are Sweden, Finland and Iceland. The game is really worth it. Enormous reserves of hydrocarbons – for example, more than 90 billion barrels of oil - are concentrated in the Arctic. Hence, he who is the most active player in the Arctic direction will secure economic and geopolitical influence in the region.

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