(Michael Byers/Toronto Star, 28 December 2011) -- NOVOSIBIRSK, RUSSIA - Arctic. There is no likelihood of Arctic states going to war.” The Russian foreign ministry’s representative in Siberia smiles as he quotes the Canadian Prime Minister, as reported in a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. Although Stephen Harper never expected that his conversation with NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen would be made public, the analysis was entirely correct. Here in Novosibirsk (pop. 1.5 million), people are more interested in trade and investment opportunities than geopolitical conspiracies. ... Siberia is larger than Canada and its resource industry more developed, in part a legacy of the Stalinist era drive for self-sufficiency. Fully 20 per cent of Russia’s GDP comes from this vast, sparsely populated territory. ... Russia also has massive deposits of oil and gas, both onshore and offshore. Earlier this year, Russia and Norway settled the Arctic’s largest sovereignty dispute — by dividing a contested portion of the Barents Sea exactly in half. ... Unlocking Russia’s Arctic treasure chest will require new transportation routes. Some Siberian officials envisage a railway to the Bering Strait and beyond through a tunnel to North America. It’s easy to dismiss the plan as unrealistic, until you remember that the Trans-Siberian Railway connecting Europe to China and the Pacific was once also only a dream. ... Russia is intent on turning the Northern Sea Route into a commercially viable alternative to the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal. There is just one fly in the ointment: the United States, which opposes Russia’s claim that key parts of the Northern Sea Route constitute Russian internal waters. Significantly, the Russian legal position is identical to that taken by Canada with respect to the Northwest Passage, where the only country that opposes Canada’s internal waters claim is, once again, the United States. During a conference in Novosibirsk, I explain that the Soviet Union had expressed support for Canada’s legal position when the U.S. sent an icebreaker through the Northwest Passage in 1985. A Russian professor asks the logical question: “Did Canada ever support the Soviet Union’s Northern Sea Route claim?” I reply that, although mutual recognition would have strengthened both countries’ legal positions, Canada could never have supported the Soviets in a Cold War dispute with the United States. The professor looks at me quizzically: “But the Cold War is over, nyet? Russia, after all, is about to join the WTO.”
Posted 31 December 2011; 1:43:41 PM. Permalink
(Mia Bennett/Foreign Policy Association, 01 December 2011) -- This year, the Arctic has witnessed a lot more cooperation and a lot less conflict. Whereas past years were marked by sovereignty squabbles, boundary disputes, and accusations of airspace intrusions, this year, events took a more peaceful turn. ... Encouragingly, Canadian and Russian tensions dissolved this year. Relations reached a high point when Canada’s Chief of Defence met with his counterpart in Moscow. More high-level visits also took place, with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg paying a visit to President Barack Obama in Washington D.C. Though their conversation mostly concerned non-Arctic affairs, they did touch briefly upon the circumpolar north. ... The Arctic Council is this year’s group of people for its members’ accomplishment in signing the first-ever agreement under the council’s auspices. The Search and Rescue Agreement, signed by all eight member states of the Arctic Council in Nuuk, Greenland this past May, will coordinate countries’ efforts to aid ships, planes, and other vessels in distress. More work still needs to be done in harmonizing cooperation between all of the countries, but the agreement is a major milestone in the 15 year history of the Arctic Council. As I mentioned before, the first ever SAR exercises took place in October, demonstrating that the eight countries are serious about SAR. The Arctic Council also grew in the eyes of foreign ministers in all of the Arctic countries this year, especially in the United States. For the first time ever, an American Secretary of State attended the ministerial meeting. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar also attended, highlighting the importance of the meeting and esteem of the council in Washington’s eyes.
Posted 31 December 2011; 12:14:32 PM. Permalink