Russia has announced that it is seeking to improve relations in the Arctic, especially with Canada. It seems that the Kremlin is changing from a realist approach to Arctic strategy to a more liberal institutionalist approach, with talk of cooperation, conferences, and summits. Sergey Petrov, the chargé d’affaires at the Russian embassy in Ottawa, stated in an interview with Canadian television station Canwest:
“Competition is good, but in the situation in the Arctic, it would be much easier and cheaper for us to do things collectively.”
In the spirit of cooperation, a number of bilateral meetings have been held in the past couple of days to patch up relations between Canada and Russia, including one summit between the two states’ foreign ministers. Next year, a bilateral conference will be held on Arctic shipping – another topic which has been in the news lately (“The Environmental Risks of Arctic Shipping,” NY Times).
At the news conference, Petrov emphasized the need for the Arctic states to work together in order to push back against the attempts of non-Arctic states to get involved in the region. He said,
“Look, when we’re [saying] that a quarter or a third of resources, including of oil and gas [are] in the Arctic, and that it would be just five countries who would divide this quarter or a third of world resources, naturally, there are those who want to be part of that…I think that it’s not in the interests of Canada – but it’s for your government to decide – and it’s not in the interests of Russia to allow any other outside players to be part of this system.”
He named only the EU as an outside player when asked.
For instance, recently, the EU, Italy, China and South Korea tried to gain status as Arctic observer states in the Arctic Council, but their bids were denied. The bid for the EU was denied because Canada was retaliating for its banning of the sale of furs. Here, an Arctic state (Canada) can be seen trying to defend its economy and the way of life of its indigenous Arctic people, while an outside actor (the EU) tries to get involved in Arctic affairs – exactly the kind of interference Petrov is seeking to avoid.
On the other side of the North Pole, Russia and Norway just signed an extension over the so-called “grey zone” between the two countries’ maritime borders in the Barents Sea. It has been extended every year for the past thirty years, and will now go until July 1, 2010.
“Russia proposes Arctic détente,” The Globe and Mail
“Canada-Russia Arctic frostiness thawing,” The Vancouver Sun
“Extension of the Grey Zone Agreement,” The Barents Observer