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).
This wonderful map is created by the National Geographic showing the impact of melting ice. The Russsian Geographic Society, in the meanwhile, is far more interested in partnering with the Navy. It is hardly surprising, since Sergei Shoigu after assuming the position of Defence Minister a year ago, has retained his leadership in the RGS. He is now planning to build a new class of ice-protected patrol ships even if no such keels are supposed to be laid according to the approved shipbuilding/rearmament programme. I am amused (not really, just a figure of speech) by Alexander Golts’ observation that a great amount of supplies was delivered for constructing a new base on the Kotelny island, but Yakutia was forgotten – and now suddenly the ‘winter-is-coming’ crisis demands urgent deliveries by air.
This picture of captured Arctic Sunrise provides an illustration to the remarkable document prepared by the Russian Ministry for Regional Development. It is a draft proposal for the program on social and economic development of Russia’s Arctic zone published on the Ministry’s website. In the depth of this draft, there are firm assessments about the growth of conflict potential and the task for the Armed Forces in repelling possible aggression and ensuring strategic deterrence. The assessments emphasizing the lack of experience in combat operations in this area and the need in building a system of rapind reaction on aggressive operations from other states certainly go against the official discourse on the commitment to peaceful cooperation in the Arctic.
The myth about the Arctic as the ultimate “treasure chest” of natural resources still has plenty of spin in the Russian political discourse, but reasonable assessments, like this article in Nezavisimaya gazeta, do appear. They are confirmed by the fact that Gazprom has in fact cut down the production on its newly-opened Bovanenkovskoe fields on the Yamal. On this background, the news about erecting a double barbed wire fence on the border with Norway – presumably to keep Green-peaceniks away – reads really odd.
The Barents Observer, which is a very good source on Arctic matters, has brought to my attention an article in Voenno-Promyshelly Kuryer on the problems and delays with the nuclear submarine Severodvinsk. The keel of this first sub in Yasen class was laid back in 1993, but the sea trials that started in 2011 have revealed problems – primarily with the propeller that is visible in this picture where then-quasi-President Medvedev pronounced the construction successfully completed.
When I wrote the post about Zhirinivsky last week, I thought the issue could not get more bizarre – and was proven wrong. Yes, it can – and President Putin himself took care of that. He lashed against Sergei Medvedev with such passion that it is plain clear – the idea about putting environment first in the Arctic hits a raw nerve. Sergei has elaborated his position in a column in Forbes.ru, and in a very sharp interview with RBC.
A remarkably bizzare twist to the Arctic tale: My good friend Sergei Medvedev posted a comment to a blog post, in which he argued that Soviet and Russian “conquest” of the Arctic had inflicted so much damage to the environment that all economic activity in the High North should be banned and a UN monitoring should be established. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who needs no introduction, suggested in a State Duma intervention, to expel Sergei Medvedev (who is a professor at the Higher School of Economics) from Russia. Yes, certainly, a rabid over-reaction from this sad political clown, but I cannot imagine how that blog exchange could have possibly come to his attention.
Russian media is full of accounts of the “show pre-trial” on the Greenpeace activists, like for instance this article in Novaya gazeta. Lenta.ru is providing great newstream, particularly since Litvinov works for them; while Nezavisimaya gazeta tries to rationalize the demonstrative harshness. The point in Vedomosti that a “clash of civilizations” may be present in this conflict is very sharp, even if Putin’s pretences on leading a civilization are very far-fetched.
Gazprom was certainly better prepared this year to counter the Greenpeace action against the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora sea – but this is the case of better preparedness making things much worse. The border guard ship (in the picture from the Greenpeace website) had to fire on the Arctic Sunrise in order to prevent it from coming close to the platform, and two activists were detained. Great negative publicity, even in the official coverage, and a great many details in the business media. Nothing on the Gazprom website, certainly, but kudos to brave Green-peaceniks.
Interesting news about Putin’s plans for militarizing the Arctic: Holding a phone conference with the top brass on September 16, the CinC instructed the commander of the Northern Fleet to rebuild the base on the Novosibirsk islands abandoned in 1993. The battle group led by Petr Velikii held exercises in this area, including a marine company landing, in mid-September and the official propaganda declared, rather misleadingly, that a “permanent presence” in the Arctic is reconstituted (Severomorsk, to all intents and purposes, is in the Arctic), but reviving that base would be a very costly affair.