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Letters: Misinterpreting Russia’s northern policy concept

With the official release of “The Fundamentals of the State Policy of Russia in the Arctic up to 2020 and Beyond” by the Security Council of the Russian Federation (www.scrf.gov.ru), I was amazed to see the re-emergence of the Cold War rhetoric that took place in the Canadian media.

With a simple misinterpretation of one aspect of the Arctic Group Forces mentioned in the document, the media blitz was underway. As Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, head of the commission on Maritime Policy of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, stated: “This is not about the creation of a new strike force.” He explained that the main focus would be on tasks performed by border guard units.

Nevertheless, I feel that it is necessary to explain the essence of the State policy. First, as the document states, Russia’s national interests in the Arctic include:
· the utilization of the Russian Arctic zone as a strategic resource base to secure the socio-economic development of Russia;
· maintenance of the Arctic as an international zone of peace and cooperation;
· preservation of the unique Arctic eco-systems; and,
· employment of the Northern Sea Route as a unified national transport communication of the Russian Federation in the Arctic.

Russia’s strategic priorities include: active collaboration with all Arctic states within the frameworks of international law; establishment of a regional system aimed at search and rescue operations; initiation of international scientific cooperation and research; prevention of man-made disasters; effective resource development; intensification of the work of such forums as the Arctic Council; development of an effective transportation system that will function within the Northern Sea Route in compliance with international treaties; and improvement of the quality of life of the Aboriginal peoples living in the North.

Many of these positions coincide with Canadian approaches to further explore the vast potential of the circumpolar region and work with other nations to accomplish the realization of its national interests in the Arctic.

The Russian Arctic region accounts for around 20 percent of Russia’s gross domestic product and 22 percent of national exports. Mining of rare precious metals is one of the most highly developed sectors here; it is also home to such major oil and gas producing areas as the West-Siberian, Timano-Pecherskaya and East-Siberian fields. Yet we understand that socio-economic development of the Russian Arctic region is hampered by poorly developed infrastructure and unresolved social problems, such as lack of affordable passenger transport and severe housing shortages (nearly 650,000 people are on a waiting list for housing subsidies in the region).

To overcome such problems, Russia is trying to consolidate its efforts under a complex strategy and is willing to intensify its cooperation with the Arctic states, namely Canada. And one of the positive examples of this collaboration, of course, is the Arctic Bridge project that proved to be successful in reducing transport costs, leading to a substantial increase in business ties with our Canadian partners.

The Arctic is both a huge prize and a huge challenge for Russia and Canada. It is in our interests to try to approach it in a joint cooperative way, combining our efforts to provide for its use for the benefit of both nations.

The Policy specifically stipulates that Russia is aimed at “enhancing both on the bilateral basis and within such regional organizations as the Arctic Council, Barents Council/Euro-Arctic region, the neighbourly relations with the Arctic states, intensifying the economic, scientific and cultural interaction, including cross-border cooperation in such spheres as effective resource development and preservation of the Arctic environment.”

Kirill Kalinin,
Attaché of the Embassy of the Russian Federation in Canada

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