The International Arctic Forum took place in Moscow, Russia last week. Hosted by the Russian Geographical Society at Moscow State University, the conference was initially supposed to take place in April until the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull disrupted air travel. Entitled “The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue,” the two-day conference was home to a number of discussions ranging from assessing climate change in the Arctic to considering the role indigenous people play in sustainable development. You can view the schedule here for more detailed insight into the discussion topics and guests in attendance.
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin gave a notably diplomatic speech at the conference, emphasizing the need for multilateral cooperation under existing UN rules to settle disputes in the Arctic. He stated, “We should maintain the Arctic as a region for peace and co-operation…If you stand alone you can’t survive in the Arctic. Nature makes people and states to help each other.”
Putin’s comments are in line with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s recent statement that “it’s no surprise that economic concerns are fuelling government’s desires to engage in diplomacy.” While Putin underscored the importance of nature as opposed to economic interests, both representatives of the Russian government demonstrated the country’s interest in cooperation over conflict in the Arctic. The Moscow times called this Russia’s “diplomatic offensive in the Arctic.”
Media outlet Russia Today posted a video of Putin’s speech with translation (Putin’s comments begin at 1:59):
Putin even called for the creation of nature reserves in the Arctic. He declared,
“Before drawing up plans for developing the regions mineral-rich deposits, it is necessary to first clean the region up. We are planning to do a serious spring-cleaning in the Arctic territories in the most direct sense of the word. I mean cleaning up the garbage that has been accumulating for decades around the cities, villages, mineral deposits, military bases, seaports, and airfields. In the Arctic territories, Russian authorities intend to establish national parks and reserves with the help and aid of investors.
For further information about Russia’s perspective on the Arctic, you can visit http://www.arctic.ru, which also hosts the International Arctic Forum website. This site is a good resource, with discussions of topics like the environment and infrastructure, along with a section containing several maps. The river map is interesting, as it shows the drainage network of the north-flowing rivers which terminate in the Arctic. Many of these rivers are located in Russia, demonstrating that the country’s export industry could benefit from rising temperatures. If the rivers – particularly the great three Siberian rivers, the Ob, Yenisei, and Lena – remain ice-free more often, greater amounts of timber, ore, and other natural resources would be able to be shipped out of Siberia rather than being hauled on the Trans-Siberian Railway across thousands of miles of land.
Russia has long tried to figure out how to harness these rivers for trade; witness the “Northern river reversal project,” which attempted to reverse the northward flow of the rivers so that the water would drain into arid Central Asia instead of the Arctic Ocean.
“Diplomatic offensive on Arctic is a success,” The Moscow Times