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Russia Pivots North

5 May 2013 06:30 pm - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • The lesser-known diplomatic shift of the twenty first century
  • At a time when world powers are making geographical shifts to the East in the much touted Asian Century, it is important to consider  the different move of a significant other
- By Salma Yusuf

Solitude within a new system of international relations is fraught with big risks. Although just like the United States, Russia has access to both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, Moscow takes no part in the integration processes in the West or the East. This makes one think about Russia’s place in a new configuration of international relations.

It is necessary to look for a way out of this situation. Thanks to its geographical position, Russia could become a continental link between the Pacific and Euro-Atlantic integration efforts. Russia’s “critical mass” is small – approximately 2 per cent of the global population and 3 per cent of the GDP. While this share would grow in the event of successful Eurasian integration, it would still lag far behind the global giants.

The increased accessibility of the Arctic, with its energy and mineral resources, new fisheries, shortened sea routes, and access to rivers flowing north to the Arctic, is pushing Russia to become a maritime state. As it progresses, Russia will no longer be susceptible to geographic isolation or encirclement. At the same time, these changes will require Russia to become more closely integrated into global commercial and financial networks, to welcome international business involvement, and to participate in international bodies that harmonise international shipping, safety, security and environmental regulations.

These changes are already opening the way for a new Geo-strategy that has its roots in the geo-political thinking of the twentieth century but addresses the changes that are turning the Arctic from an afterthought to a central front in the new Geo-political view of the world. In this new Geo-strategy, Russia assumes a role as one of the maritime powers of the “rim-land,” and the Russian Arctic becomes a new geographical pivot among the great powers. Decades will pass before Russia can fully make the shift from Eurasian heartland to Arctic coastal state, but it is already integrating policies toward this end into the strategies of its national Security Council and federal ministries, and it shows every indication of expecting to seize its future seat among the major maritime states of the world.

Most of the attention paid to the benefits of Arctic warming and retreat of the polar ice cover has focused on the economic potential of offshore oil and gas deposits and the savings of time and fuel made possible by new trans-arctic shipping routes. These benefits are significant, but for Russia there are other interests related to the increased accessibility of the Arctic, including securing a newly -opened Arctic frontier and increasing access to the rivers that reach throughout the interior of the country. Russia’s perception of its Arctic interests can be grouped into four categories: economics, security, transportation, and development.

Russia’s leadership has had long involvement in the development of its Arctic, from the establishment of the Northern Sea Route Administration in 1932 to the recent statement of Russia’s strategy for the Arctic. In September of 2008, the Security Council of the Russian Federation laid out its vision of Russia’s Arctic future, setting out its basic national interests in the Arctic: Use of the Arctic zone of Russia as a strategic resource base of Russia to tackle the socioeconomic development of the country; Preservation of the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation; Conservation of unique ecosystems of the Arctic; Use of the Northern Sea Route as a national integrated transport communications line in Arctic Russia.

The document Foundations of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the Period up to 2020 and Beyond focuses on priorities for Arctic policy, many of them incorporated into more specific strategies and concepts in other functional areas. From a functional perspective, the key provisions can be grouped into foreign policy, military security, economic development, and transportation and maritime policy.

" In seeking to establish the Arctic as a “zone of peace and cooperation,” the Russian Arctic policy emphasizes mutually beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperation among Russia and other Arctic states on the basis of international treaties and agreements to which Russia is a party. "

Foreign Policy:
In seeking to establish the Arctic as a “zone of peace and cooperation,” the Russian Arctic policy emphasizes mutually-beneficial bilateral and multilateral cooperation among Russia and other Arctic states on the basis of international treaties and agreements to which Russia is a party. Underlying all Russian policies toward the Arctic is support for regional collaboration in the Arctic and commitment to UNCLOS and multilateral organisations and approaches, including the International Maritime Organisation, the Arctic Council, and the five Arctic coastal states, who met in Ilulissat, Greenland, in 2008 to issue their declaration on management of the Arctic. The key foreign policy point in the Ilulissat Declaration—that the Arctic coastal states will resolve disputes peacefully in line with the law of the sea—is consistent with the Russian Arctic policy.

The Arctic Council consists of the five Arctic coastal states plus Sweden, Finland, and Iceland, as well as the organisations representing the indigenous peoples of the Arctic. The council is not a decision-making body; in fact, it has no standing infrastructure or secretariat. It is, however, the principal body in which the regional agenda for environment and development issues in the Arctic is discussed.

Military Security:
In military terms, Russia’s Arctic policy focuses on the protection of the nation and its borders as they run north into the Arctic Ocean and on achieving a favourable operating regime in the Russian Arctic for the Russian Federation’s armed forces and other troops, military formations, and bodies needed in the region, particularly the Federal Security Service’s Coastal Border Guard.

Economic Development:
 Socioeconomic development is the core element of Russia’s Arctic policy. Expanding the resource base of the Arctic zone of Russia would do much to fill the nation’s needs for hydrocarbon resources, aquatic biological resources, and other strategic raw materials. It would also provide foreign exchange to accelerate domestic development and growth.

Regional development of the Arctic is also an area of interest. The Ministry for Regional Development has prepared a paper on sustainable development in the Arctic for the Arctic Council and is tasked to prepare for review by Russia’s Security Council a regional development plan for the Arctic lands that addresses, finances, and promotes development of the Arctic region of Russia. This plan is also to address revision of the state subsidies for activities that support Arctic development.

Transportation and Maritime Policy:
The identification of the Arctic as an area of strategic national interest has been incorporated into national policies and plans. The Transportation  Strategy to 2030 established objectives of strengthening the NSR and the river network that links the route to the interior.
It sets a specific goal of building three new “linear” icebreakers that will begin, after 2015, to replace the aging Arktika-class heavy nuclear icebreakers built in the 1970s and now due for retirement. It also calls for building conventionally powered breakers to support regional development, river ice-breaking, and port maintenance. Transportation Strategy to 2030 also anticipates a focus on developing ports and inland water ways along the NSR in the period from 2015 to 2030.

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