ROAR: Russia invites competitors to dialogue on the Arctic

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Moscow has again claimed its rights to the continental shelf in the northern region and has convened an international conference on problems concerning the Arctic.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has said that there has been “much ado” around the Arctic region recently. Russian actions there are

“within the limits of the rules formulated by the United Nations and on the basis of maritime law,”

Putin

stressed

when meeting members of the Russian Geographic Society on March 15.

Moscow already claimed its rights for a part of the Arctic continental shelf in 2001. The United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark are also interested in developing the region that analysts believe has huge oil and gas reserves.

Noting that neighbors reacted negatively to Russia planting a flag on the seabed in the Arctic, Putin stressed that “nobody has ever stopped them from planting their own flags.”

The discussion on the issue will continue when representatives of the Arctic Council nations will meet on April 22-23 in Moscow at an international conference on the region. The Russian prime minister expects the participants to discuss the problems “in a calm and neighborly manner” and “listen to each other rather than exchange threats on non-existing issues.”

Russian explorers conducted two expeditions to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov Ridge in 2007 to prove that the country’s continental shelf extends beyond the 200-mile limit. If the evidence is approved by the United Nations, it gives the country the right to claim more of the ocean floor.

The Russian Geographic Society is expected to play a wider role in developing the Arctic region. The conference on the Arctic will be “the first large project of the revived Geographic Society,” said editor-in-chief of the RIA Novosti news agency Svetlana Mironyuk. The agency will be the operator of the conference called “The Arctic – the territory of dialogue.”

According to Mironyuk, the gathering will actually establish Russia’s return to the Arctic.

“The main themes of the conference are the development and exploration of natural resources, including the Arctic shelf, protection of nature and the development of the transport infrastructure of the region,” Mironyuk said. Diplomats, experts, and representatives of indigenous peoples are expected to attend the conference.

The honorary guest will be Prince Albert of Monaco. He and Putin will be the only statesmen invited to the conference, Mironyuk told Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily. This decision is explained by the desire to leave the disputes around the Arctic to explorers and scientists.

Among such explorers is Artur Chilingarov, “who dipped into the depth of 4.5 km and planted a Russian flag and was awarded a title of Hero of Russia together with two other polar explorers Anatoly Sagalevich and Vladimir Gruzdev,” the paper said.

That 2007 expedition was successful at least because it attracted the attention of the Western media, said Konstantin Simonov, head of the National Energy Security Fund. “However, the struggle for the Arctic will be serious because its legal status is not fully clear yet,” he stressed.

This struggle is only beginning, the analyst said, adding that neither Denmark nor the US is going “to let Russia have the Arctic.” Canada and other countries will also enter the dispute, he told LentaCom.ru website.

The expedition conducted by Chilingarov and his colleagues was “the first local victory for Russia,” but the country will face strong opposition, Simonov said. Russia made its claims, and it provoked “a nervous reaction,” he noted. But during the perestroika era the Soviet Union made “many concessions concerning the continental shelf,” he added.

“It is difficult to predict the success or failure of Russia in the fight for the Arctic… but we are entering it with certain arguments and grounds,” the analyst noted.

Russia’s efforts to protect wildlife in the region may be an additional argument. Speaking at the meeting of the Russian Geographic Society, Putin called for urgent efforts to save polar bears.

“The number of [polar] bears continues to decline. In fact, they are on the verge of extinction,” the prime minister said. “Of course, this must not be allowed, and the polar bear should be preserved not only in zoos, but in wildlife also.” The government has issued a grant for scientists studying polar bears, and Putin promised to pay close attention to the issue.

However, geopolitical issues concerning the region will be the primary focus of attention for many countries in the future. The Arctic is a region that has “decisive importance,” believes Thomas Gomart, director of the Russia/NIS Center under the French Institute of Foreign Relations.

Relationships between Russia and NATO may influence the region in the future, taking into account the fact that 15% of the world’s reserves of hydrocarbons are believed to be there, he wrote in an article published by Vremya Novostey daily.

“Depending on how these relationships develop, the region will be the subject of confrontation or real cooperation,” the analyst said.

Surprisingly enough, the countries disputing the Arctic – Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada and the US – may be joined by China. Until recently, it was considered that only states bordering the region will share “the Arctic pie, or the shelf of the Arctic Ocean,” Noviye Izvestia daily said, citing a report the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute called “China Prepares for an Ice-Free Arctic.”

China is interested in new transport waterways that are likely to emerge in the ocean by 2013. The North-West passage between Greenland and Canada and the North-East one which passes by Russia’s Arctic shores “will significantly reduce the distance between China, North America and Western Europe,” the study says. China expects obvious strategic and economic advantages with the appearance of an ice-free Arctic.

According to the study, Beijing has already joined the Arctic council as an observer, opened its scientific stations at Spitsbergen, and extended the embassy in Iceland. The institute believes that the five countries will have to work in close cooperation with China in the near future.

Moreover, the analysts say that the countries involved in developing “the northern top of the planet” will be wrong if they try to prevent China from entering their club, the paper said. “A wiser strategy would be to involve that country in solving the numerous problems of the region,” it added.

Russia has made it clear it is ready for a dialogue with the interested countries. Other sides will be able to provide their arguments at the April conference on the Arctic.

Sergey Borisov, RT