There is a lot of news coming out of the Arctic today, some of it involving countries far to the south of the Arctic Circle, and some of it involving Russia.
Germany enters the race for the Arctic
Der Spiegel reports that German diplomats are “worried that the five countries bordering the Arctic — Russia, Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark — plan to divide up the previously ice-covered ocean among themselves.” Germany’s scientists are interested in carrying out research in areas which are the sovereign territory of other Arctic countries, including places like Siberia, where they have been denied access. Though Germany is far from the Arctic, the country has a strong tradition of polar research through the Alfred Wegener Institute. The Federal Foreign Office in Berlin will host a conference on the the effect of international law on Arctic marine science this Thursday and Friday. Organizers have invited a delegate from China, a country with a similar perspective on the Arctic: on the outside, but badly wanting to get in. Germany and China both have large industrial economies, so the Arctic Ocean’s fisheries and mineral resources are of great appeal. As both nations are also some of the world’s largest exporters, they are interested in keeping the sea lanes like the Northwest Passage open. For Germany and China, keeping the Arctic part of the “common heritage of all mankind” is more important than divvying up the region among the Arctic Five.
Russia invites India and China to the oil wells of the Arctic
Rosneft, which recently agreed to pair up with Shell to develop offshore oil wells in the Kara Sea, is now inviting Indian and Chinese oil companies to help do the same on other parts of Russia’s continental shelf. China National Petroleum Corporation, China National Offshore Oil Corporation, and Sinopec, three large Chinese petroleum companies, are interested in the Magadan-1 and Magadan-2 areas in the Sea of Okhotsk. India’s Oil & Natural Gas Corporation might also begin working with Rosneft to exploit the resources of the North.
Russia builds Arctic commando force
The Russian Armed Forces’ Land Forces Commander Colonel General Alexander Postnikov announced today at a meeting of the Federation Council Committee on Defense and Security that the military would create a “special brigade for operations in the Arctic” in Pechenga, which lies on the Kola Peninsula, close to the border with Norway. The new Polar Spetsnaz, or special forces unit, will have DT-30P Vityaz tracked vehicles and other weapons and tanks. This does not come as a surprise, as the creation of an Arctic special forces unit was included in Russia’s Arctic Strategy, “The Foundations Of The Russian Federation’s State Policy In The Arctic Until 2020 And Beyond.” The article I’ve linked to above is a Google translation of an article which appeared in the Russian online daily “Today’s Press,” with the ever-so-subtle subtitle, “Both Moscow and the West prepared to fight for possession of the Polar Sea shelf.” At the end is an interview with retired colonel Alexander Sharavin, now head of Russia’s Institute of Political and Military Analysis. He asserts that the creation of the Arctic special forces is the correct decision, though “belated.” The interviewer asks how it can really be belated, when not much is going on in the Arctic. He answers, “Because we have thousands of kilometers of border passes through the Arctic Ocean. This huge space is not generally covered up with anything and anybody. And with global warming, very very unexpected things can happen.” Indeed, Sharavin even envisions a future need for the creation of a Polar Spetsnaz unit in Chukotka, thousands of miles away in Russia’s Far East.
State Duma Committee recommends ratification of maritime delimitation agreement with Norway
On a more diplomatic note, in parliamentary hearings, the Russian Ambassador to Norway, Roman Kolodkin, recommended that the Lower House of the Duma ratify the maritime delimitation agreement ending a 40-year boundary dispute between Russia and Norway. He noted that ratification would finally bring an end to the thirty-year-long moratorium on drilling in the 175,000-square kilometer “Gray Area,” so-called because it had not been determined which country had jurisdiction. Kolodkin stated, “”There is every reason to believe that our cooperation in this area will have very good prospects. It is believed that the disputed area, especially its southern part, is very rich in hydrocarbons.” Even Arthur Chilingarov, who at times can be rather nationalistic about Russia’s role in the Arctic, observed during the hearing, “Agreement and our practical work here will induce a certain order.”