Staunton, February 4 – Global warming is opening up the Arctic to economic exploitation and that means that the world needs “new rules” about how it is used and who will make decisions about that, according to Finnish foreign minister Timo Soini (regnum.ru/news/polit/2070102.html).
The logic of his argument is simple: as global warming makes exploitation of the Arctic “simpler and less expensive,” more countries are going to be involved, and they should have a voice in how the region is developed. But some in Russia fear that this is an effort to strip Russia of its “special status” as one of the Arctic “powers.”
In a Svobodnaya pressa commentary today, Aleksey Verkhoyantsev says that discussions about this possibility have been going on for some time. He cites Valery Zhuvavel, an expert at the Moscow Center for Northern Europe, as saying that this is a reason Russia is taking actions, including military ones, to defend its privileged position (svpressa.ru/politic/article/141610/).
Zhuravel says that Moscow has some time before the situation becomes critical because at present prices for oil, the exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits in the Arctic is not economically viable. But that does not mean that the major powers are not lining up on various sides of the issue.
“China and the US support the internationalization of the Northern Sea Route,” the Moscow scholar says. “But this is not acceptable for Canada and Russia.” Japan would like to internationalize the route but it wants to maintain cooperation with Russia in the hopes of recovering the Northern Territories.
Zhuravel says that he believes that there needs to be an international agreement so that each country’s role is spelled out. At present, Russia’s role is undefined. Russia gets income from those who rely on its icebreakers to make the trip, but there needs to be an agreement abut “foreign investment in our arctic ports and the creation of a single infrastructure” on the route.
Unfortunately, he says, Russia does not yet have “a conception of the economic development of the Arctic where it is precisely and clearly indicated how and why it is necessary to spend money in this region in order to obtain a profit in the future.”
Another Moscow expert, Boris Shmelyov, a professor at the Russian Diplomatic Academy, says that “Russia as before aspires to a special role in the region, pointing to existing agreements.” But “we need to take new realities into consideration” lest Russia alienate others, and especially China, that want to use the Northern Sea Route.
The Russian authorities should “act according to the rule: if you can’t stop a process, then head it. It is clear that on its own, Russia is not in a position to master such an enormous, complex, and despite warming climatically inhospitable region. Therefore it is necessary to attract investors and reach agreements.”
Under international law, Russian sovereignty extends 200 miles into the Arctic Ocean along the coastline of the country. If there are discussions about changing the rules and if these take place at the UN, Russia could use its veto to block them. But, Shmelyov says, “we should display flexibility on those issues which do not harm our geopolitical interests.”