Russia reaffirms desire to exploit Arctic resources; Canada reacts

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev renewed calls for Russia to drill its Arctic resources in a speech to the Russian Security Council, a directorate of the Presidential Executive Office which writes briefs on national security issues. He said, according to AP,

“Regrettably, we have seen attempts to limit Russia’s access to the exploration and development of the Arctic mineral resources…That’s absolutely inadmissible from the legal viewpoint and unfair given our nation’s geographical location and history.”

Indeed, Russia has the longest Arctic coastline of any of the Arctic littoral states, at about 30-35%. Yet it still must prove the validity of its territorial claims to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) by 2011, so whether all attempts to restrain Russian resource development in the Arctic are really “unfair” are up in the air until then.

Canada responded directly to Medvedev’s announcement, appearing to have taken the bait from Russia. Catherine Loubier, a spokeswoman for Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon, told the Canadian Press:

“This government is dedicated to fulfilling the North’s true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada. We take our responsibility for the future of the region seriously.”

This bilateral riff comes just as Canada is preparing to host a meeting of the Arctic-Five in Chelsea, Quebec on March 29, to which Russia is invited. Canada has again, at least rhetorically, lived up to Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s desire to “use it or lose it” in the Arctic. Yet as Canadian commentator Doug Saunders recently observed in a Globe & Mail article, Canada sees its northern hinterlands “as a colony,” for Canada may very well “own the Arctic but, unlike most of our northern neighbours, we are not Arctic.” Perhaps this explains Canada’s aggression in trying to own the Arctic (an interesting parallel with its attempt to “own the podium” at the Vancouver Olympics, perhaps?).

The recent announcement by the U.S. to refit an icebreaker also made some Canadian hairs stand on end. In response, Liberal Senator William Rompkey, representing Newfounland and Labrador, declared that

“If we’re saying this is our territory, we’ve got to be there…Or we’ve got to stop saying it’s our territory.”

It will be interesting to see how the five littoral countries align themselves at the upcoming Arctic summit in Chelsea. As Canada and Russia go their separate ways, the latter is making overtures to Finland, its neighbor to the west. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin met with Finnish President Tarja Halonen on Monday and suggested that the two countries collaborate on developing icebreakers and Arctic technology, which they could also export to other countries. Of course, Finland (though it is an Arctic Council member) wasn’t invited to the conference since it lacks an Arctic coastline. Thus, it may be up to the U.S. to resolve Russo-Canadian tensions. In fact, relations between the U.S. and Russia seem to have warmed lately, especially with today’s reported breakthrough in arms control negotiations. Whether that will spill over into warming in Arctic relations has yet to be seen.

News Links

Medevev: Russia must tap Arctic resources, Associated Press

Canada-Russia Arctic tensions rise, Canadian Press

Russia, Finland eye Arctic cooperation, Barents Observer

Restoration of U.S. icebreaker should propel Canada to Arctic action, CanWest News Service

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