Arctic – the zone of confrontation

When Nezavisimaya gazeta published an article entitled “Arctic – the zone of confrontation”, I paid scant attention assuming that it was just an effort to remind that Ukraine was not everything. But then Putin held the meeting of the Security Council and ordered to set up a super-commission that would supervise all Arctic policies. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Sec-Council clarified that all new military infrastructure in the Arctic zone would be dual-use. I presume Western investors are thrilled with the opportunity for share port facilities with the Russian Navy. Worries about Canada’s decision to boycott the Arctic Council meetings in Moscow come very clear here.

Spitsbergen sovereignty

Norwegian newspaper Dagsavisen has published my argument that in the fast-moving escalation of the crisis around Ukraine, Moscow could try to exploit Norwegian sensitivity to the Spitsbergen sovereignty. I certainly do not want to give the policy-makers in the Kremlin ideas, but the pressure point is too obvious to miss. It fits perfectly into the attempts to split the unity of NATO – and it answers to the desire to exploit Russia’s military superiority in the High North demonstrated in the recent exercises involving deployment of VDV troops in the North Pole.

“Polite green men”

As the “polite green men” were taking control over the Crimea, another unit of Russian paratroopers landed on the Kotelny island, as TASS proudly reported. More extensive coverage of that high-risk exercise is here. An article in Nezavisimaya argued that “penetration of Greenpeaceniks and radical Islamists is a grave threat to the Russian Arctic“. This sort of fatuity wouldn’t deserve a comment if official Russian discourse were not catching up with it extra-fast – and if other exercises were not replaying the Cold War games.

 

 

 

Global warming and melting of Arctic ice

Rossiiskaya gazeta published a report from a scientific conference where the proposition on global warming and melting of Arctic ice was effectively disproved. The fact that September 2013 ice was by as much as 50% larger than September 2012 ice is indeed under-reported. What is odd about this emphasis, however, is that it goes strictly against the plans to make the Sevmorput a commercially viable route, particularly for transporting LNG from Yamal eastwards.
On the picture – the LNG tanker Ob river goes from Hammerfest, Norway to Tobata, Japan in November 2012 accompanied by two icebreakers.

The Northern Fleet

It is rather unusual for the official news agency to publish an expert opinion that “the Northern Fleet in its current strength cannot perform even elementary tasks on ensuring national security in this vast region“. The volume of assertive statements has much increased after the short cruise of a squadron led by Petr Veliky along a western part of Sevmorput last September (in the picture).
The article by Andrei Zagorsky in Nezavisimaya gazeta gives a good overview of real problems in the Arctic policy.

“Hard security” matters in the Arctic

Russian officials added emphasis on the “hard security” matters in the Arctic in the end-of-the-year self-congratulations. Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of the Security Council and a big fan of Far North, asserted that “strategic risks for Russia in the Arctic are increasing“. Vice prime minister Dmitry Rogozin argued that “serious players are engaged in a battle, so far virtual, over who will gain control over the Arctic first“. Much fanfare was played over the introduction to the Navy of Alexander Nevsky – the second SSBN of the Borey class, but not a word was said about the new tests of the Bulava SLBM, without which both subs are good for nothing. Grand discourse is a poor camouflage for technical failures; it is safer to march the good old way…

Putin’s course on militarizing the Arctic

My last publication of the year 2013 has appeared in The New Times (in Russian), and it examines the rationale for Putin’s course on militarizing the Arctic, while proclaiming commitment to peace and cooperation. The text has suffered from severe cuts, but for once I have no complaints – they have to make room in the issue for the breaking news about Mikhail Khodorkovsky going free.

‘Environmental and Human Security in the Arctic’

I have been writing a short review on the book “Environmental and Human Security in the Arctic” (Hoogensen et al, eds, Routledge: 2014), when a news item about President Putin’s address to the FSB personnel in connection with the “Day of Chekists” has caught my eye. Nothing new in the address (it was quite an odd coincidence that Mikhail Khodorkovsky was pardoned on that particular day), but the order to protect Russia’s borders in the Arctic with utmost diligence was reiterated – and I put this picture from RIA-Novosti to illustrate it. It was the contrast between this obesssion with “hard security” (which manifests itself in too many militaristic steps) and the acute need in addressing the human security matters in the Russian Arctic that has struck me. The book goes into much detail evaluating these needs and makes a useful contribution to research on environmental/health/societal security; I can recommend it partcularly to those interested in gender-realted and indigenous comminities-focused perspectives.
My concern is that every step in building the military presence in the Arctic, which has acquired such particular priority in Putin’s vision this autumn, undermines the human security agenda.

‘The Arctic: Region of Cooperation and Development’

The conference in Moscow on “The Arctic: Region of Cooperation and Development” organized by the Russian International Affairs Council with IMEMO and CSIS as key partners had a nice venue in the Lotte Hotel and many important quests, including Deputy Foreign Minister Titov and Deputy Secretary of the Security Council Nazarkin (both in the picture). What surprised me was that not one word during two days of discussions was mentioned about Russia’s military activities in the Arctic; that the Nunn-Lugar programme heard no post-mortem praise in the session on the US-Russia cooperation; and that the word “Greenpeace” was absolutely impossible to pronounce. Russian experts apparently are resolutely unconcerned about the global warming (the prospect of a new “freezing” was pointed out more than once).

Putin’s “green” awareness

It is certainly very good news that the Greenpeace activists one after another are going out of the prison cells on bail, but the case is by no means closed. This photo taken by Arkady Babchenko and published in his very sharp article on Colta.ru about the striking contrast between the Arctic Sunrise and the drab Murmansk port shows that police is still trying to find incriminating evidence in the ship. Putin, in the meanwhile, has presided over a special meeting of his Security Council on “ecologic security” and instructed to pay special attention to following international standards in the Arctic zone. This “green” awareness generally follows his line on embracing the environmental agenda – but remains incompatible with the severe persecution of ecologic NGOs activity).