“The North is ours. We want to show our partners around the world that we maintain our presence,” said the captain of the Canadian corvette Luc Tremblay. In addition, Canadians have recently decided to increase the number of rangers eskimos guarding the region.
What do you think who is an ‘imaginary enemy’ in these militaristic revelries? I do not know what is there in the background but one thing is clear – it is Russia. All because our country does not hide its claims to a huge share of the Arctic Ocean’s shelf, on which Canada has a claim too. The value of the matter is known - according to experts, it is this part of the ocean Russia traditionally considers to be its own that contains about a quarter of the world’s hydrocarbon reserves. On the shelves of the Barents and Kara seas a unique capacity of gas fields has been discovered. In addition, in these places almost one sixth of the country’s volume of fish is produced. And yet - the Northern Sea Route passes here, the shortest route from Europe to America and Asia, including for oil and gas transportation from Arctic deposits. The potential of this macro-region and adjacent northern territories is capable to feed humanity for several decades.
Obviously Russia is not going to give these riches for nothing. This, in particular, was stated on August 12 at the conference, which took place on board the icebreaker Yamal, which is now going through the Northern Sea Route. And the question is about a huge area with a size equal to Italy, Germany and France taken together - 1.2 million square kilometers. We had considered it ours before, and in 1926 by decree of the USSR Central Executive Committee we enshrined it in law and on national geographical maps this sector has always been marked as the Soviet, and later – the Russian one.
All these years till the hard 90’s, it was an active expansion to the North. Soviet polar explorers’ roads were to secure our sovereignty over the Arctic. The ‘norths’ were developed at an accelerated tempo too. The country needed them also as a rich source of minerals, and as a strategically important route of marine forces transfer from one ocean to another. And later - as a place for nuclear experiments and ballistic missiles, from where it was closer to fly to American shores. Though, if then the arrangement of territories in the Arctic Circle pursued primarily geopolitical and military aims, today, as evidenced by recent arctic expeditions it is economic ideas that are more and more put into the forefront. Nowadays, the main value of the Arctic is in the great riches of its shelf.
The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that Russia ratified in 1997 has reduced our external border to the 200-mile economic zone. By signing this document it lost the right per saltum to the rest of the Arctic Ocean, including its piece on the North Pole.
Now, to return the lost, Russia needs to prove that the shelf and specifically the Lomonosov Ridge is the direct continuation of the Siberian continental platform. That is what the Russian scientists did in fact, and who over the past years went to an expedition to the Arctic regions many times. And now, with this end in view, the research vessel Akademik Fedorov was sent to conduct reconnaissance accompanied by a nuclear-powered icebreaker Russia.
Moreover, following our competitors, we are going to also increase military presence in this region. Last week, Lieutenant-General Nikolai Ignatov, the Chief of Staff of the VDV, said that in the Arctic, units of airborne troops as part of the multi-service group under the auspices of the FSB may be deployed. This step is being taken in accordance with the document adopted in 2008 by the Russian Security Council ‘Principles of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic until 2020 and beyond’. It identifies the following priorities: “expanding the resource base of the Arctic zone”, and “ensuring favorable on-line mode in the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation, including maintenance of the necessary combat capabilities of force grouping".
And by 2015, our country, as Nikolai Patrushev, Security Council Secretary said at the conference, which took place on board the icebreaker Yamal, will have supplemented the unique but rather worn out Russian icebreaker fleet with four new icebreakers, including a nuclear one. In any case, this is our strongest trump card in the struggle for the Arctic wealth ...
Russia’s increased activity in the north direction is clear – there is no time to spare. Already next year we must afford conclusive proofs to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf that we do indeed have the right to our Russian territories from time immemorial. The current attempt to prove our rights to the Arctic Eldorado is the second. The first one undertaken a few years ago completely failed. To all appearance, both the Russian scientific community, and officials easily believed superficial and completely unconvincing research of our scientists. Although it initially seemed to be clear: it largely depends on this problem whom the main Arctic oil and gas wealth will go to, and eventually - what will our country signify in the world in the coming decades.
Some of these days the United Nations Seabed Committee Authority endorsed Russia’s application for gold and copper mining at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. Experts believe that this decision is encouraging in the context of the forthcoming review of the application for determining the outer boundary of the Russian continental shelf. But how much nearer does it bring us to solving the problem of the Arctic?
Our northern ambitions predictably prompted to act the other contenders for the ‘Arctic pie’. And today there are a lot of those. And there are among them not only five countries directly entering the Arctic Ocean, but also the states located thousands of nautical miles from the coveted waters. It is ironic that not only the Arctic Club nations claim to the continental shelf - Germany, China, South Korea, Sweden, the Netherlands take a genuine interest in it... In total more than two dozen countries. By the way, last week Michel Rocard, Ambassador of France for International Negotiations on the Arctic and Antarctic went on an expedition to the North on board the Canadian ice-breaker. What’s the drift of all this?..
So now Russia faces a major task - to be properly prepared to a ‘reexamination’. Our competitors are preparing for it too trying to call into question the Russians’ right to claim to their part of the ocean shelf. The Times has clearly articulated their position: “The world should reject Russia’s claims to the submarine areas.” But Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation spoke most openly in The Washington Times: “If Moscow proposes to develop the Arctic resources in collaboration and partnership with the United States and other countries, the project could be an example of very productive international cooperation.” But now, he believes, the Western countries should develop a joint activity strategy against Russia: “There is too much at stake to leave it to the Russian bear.”
Whereas in practice the critics of Russia put in question the legitimacy of the very UN Convention on the Law of the Sea ratified by most countries of the world. Investor’s Business Daily in its editorial generally calls it ‘the sea Munich’. When it comes to the Americans, their position is clear. In due time they refused to sign the document, fearing that other countries will begin to pretend to maritime domains the US considers to be its own. Moreover, the President Reagan even fired the State Department employees who participated in its preparation. Now Washington thank better of it: if the Russian proposal is convincing, the question of the Russian shelf will be resolved without its involvement.
“Fighting for the rights in the Arctic is not associated with any particular business plan,” German newspaper Handelsblatt believes. “For Moscow, it is a matter of principle.” Yes, for us it is of fundamental importance. As noted by President Medvedev, “this region is, without exaggeration, of strategic importance for our country” and “we must surely provide long-term national interests of Russia in the Arctic”. And therefore we must pay serious attention to the development of the Arctic region, the revival of the economy of the Far North. Northern Territories are a kind of logistics support of the Russian expansion to the North; the Northern Sea Route is the main transport artery, without which this expansion will not have effect. So if in the near future their real revival does not begin, there is no need to make Napoleonic plans of reserves development in the Arctic shelf ...
Many political analysts are predicting that in the coming decades, the major international fights, maybe even military conflicts will unfold around promising sources of energy. Perhaps these predictions are true. So Russia’s future largely depends on how it will be able to protect its rights to the Arctic shelf.