Arctic as an occasion for partnership

US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — There are disagreements between the United States and Russia on many issues, including the organization of the international system. In the foreseeable future, a “reset” is not expected in their relations, however, they need to establish a dialogue and work on potential areas of cooperation. One of them may be the Arctic.

Recently, the Russian city of Verkhoyansk, located in the Arctic, set a rather sad record: in June, the temperature was recorded there for the first time, plus 38 degrees Celsius. Against the backdrop of record warming and its consequences, the Arctic is increasingly viewed as another region where geopolitical rivalry is unfolding between the United States and Russia (as well as China).

Recent reports that Russia allegedly paid rewards for the killing of the US military in Afghanistan have raised tensions between the United States and Russia to a higher level. Nevertheless, the United States must be ready to work in areas where we can maintain constructive cooperation with Russia, which will serve the realization of our interests. And one of these areas is the Arctic.

The effects of warming in the Arctic are the thawing of permafrost and infrastructure damage, the thawing of huge masses of Arctic ice in the summer, the migration of animals and insect pests to the north, as well as the negative impact on the lifestyle of indigenous peoples.

Combined with the impact of coronavirus on the health of representatives of small and isolated communities, the Arctic suffered a powerful blow in the form of supply disruptions, falling oil and gas prices, cessation of energy and mineral resources, and a decline in the tourism industry, which will take years to recover. . These challenges are closely interconnected, global in their impact, and it is unlikely that they will be able to cope with them in the short term.

Currently, the United States sees Russia and China as its strategic rivals. The Russian armed forces have stepped up their activities in the Arctic. New Arctic sea routes are gradually opening up, such as the Northern Sea Route, which runs over the Russian coast, which is accompanied by the emergence of new strategic issues. And the vast reserves of energy and raw materials in the Arctic have yet to be developed.

Until recently, the Arctic was one of the few regions where scientific and other forms of peaceful cooperation seemed an exception against the backdrop of global geopolitical tensions. The research and environmental activities sponsored by the Arctic Council, which includes eight countries and six indigenous organizations with permanent membership, have led to excellent results thanks to the general consensus that no country can deal with the effects alone climate change and the rapid melting of glaciers and that diplomacy and cooperation, based on scientific evidence, is the best way to cope or at least take control of these serious problems. Unable to discuss military security issues.

The situation began to change after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, provided military assistance to the separatists in eastern Ukraine and shot down a Malaysian Airlines passenger plane flying over the zone of armed conflict. Relations with Russia deteriorated sharply, and the Arctic came under the influence of economic sanctions imposed by the United States, which prohibited American companies from participating in Russian projects for exploration and production of oil and gas in the Arctic. The United States has also severed all contacts between its and Russian forces.

However, these countries continued to cooperate on issues related to the environmentally sound development of the Arctic, as well as its biodiversity. In 2015, they signed an interstate agreement to strengthen scientific cooperation in the Arctic, in 2017, thanks to the efforts of the international maritime organization, a polar code was agreed on shipping in the Arctic, and in 2018, an Agreement on the prevention of unregulated fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean was signed, which prohibited commercial fishing in the region.

Despite these successes, the most serious sign of fading cooperation and consensus within the Arctic Council was the inability (mainly the result of United States objections to the inclusion of language on climate change) of the participants in the Arctic Council ministerial session at last year’s meeting in Rovaniemi to agree on a ministerial declaration – such happened for the first time since the creation of this council in 1996.

The Arctic is on the list of Russia’s highest national strategic priorities. Oil and gas extracted in the Arctic are of great importance for the economic future of Russia. Equally important is the protection of Russian territories along the entire Russian Arctic coastline with a length of 4 thousand kilometers. Key military facilities protect its nuclear retaliatory weapons located on the Kola Peninsula. Russia modernized the Soviet-era air and naval facilities and built new ones, expanded its military presence and conducted large-scale military exercises, deployed modern radar systems and electronic warfare systems, and also created the Arctic military command. Moscow claims that all these steps are defensive in nature and are designed to contain potential threats to Russian sovereignty from the West, as well as protect the Northern Sea Route and its Arctic resources. This stance on the Arctic is part of a broader narrative by President Vladimir Putin about the hostile intentions of the United States and NATO towards Russia and America’s desire for world domination.

The United States considers the Arctic a low-risk conflict zone, but they nevertheless fear that the buildup of Russian military capabilities in this region goes beyond defense goals and is aimed at neutralizing the NATO naval forces that carry out their operations in the North Atlantic. The United States reacted to this with its own military maneuvers, planned to build six additional icebreakers, and at last year’s Arctic Council ministerial session, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo raised the topic of military security when he sharply criticized the buildup of Russian military capabilities in the Arctic and blamed Russia and China in aggressive intentions in this region.

In short, the situation in the Arctic today demonstrates both cooperation and growing rivalry, which in turn strengthens uncertainty.

Relations between the United States and Russia remain poor, and US officials believe the situation will not improve in the near future. The number of disagreements is impressive: Iran, North Korea, Ukraine, Russia’s interference in the US elections, the future of arms control, namely the question of whether these two countries will be able to agree on an extension of the START III treaty. Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin regularly talk to each other, but diplomatic contacts to this day have turned into a shadow of what happened before. And since both countries are now trying to cope with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, there are more and more incentives to tackle internal problems.

We are aware of the existence of these deep differences, but we believe that it is in our interests to develop cooperation in areas where we can benefit. Arms control is at the top of the list, but the Arctic also needs to be included, and there are several reasons for this.

In 2021, Russia will take the chair of the Arctic Council for two years, and it will definitely want to demonstrate successful leadership. Moscow will focus on economic development, as well as on scientific and environmental cooperation, but it can take a closer look at such initiatives that will allow it to demonstrate its peaceful intentions. The current recession in the global economy and a sharp drop in oil prices have dampened hopes for the development of Arctic energy resources in the near future. And after the November presidential election in the United States — no matter who wins — the new president will have to look for ways to make progress in relations with Russia. The intensification of dialogue on the Arctic should occupy one of the top lines in its program.

First, the United States must renew high-level contacts between the two countries’s armed forces on Arctic issues. This should not be seen as encouraging Russia for its aggression in Ukraine or for its reprehensible steps in Afghanistan. Instead, dialogue on security issues in the Arctic can help us better understand the goals of building Russia’s military capabilities in the region and reduce the risk of incidents that can lead to unpredictable consequences.

Secondly, the United States should initiate a discussion on whether the Northern Sea Route is an internal route, as Russia claims, or is it still an international sea route where the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea should operate, as Washington claims. Russia has taken a number of measures to impose its interpretation, which, according to the United States, constitutes a violation of the right to freedom of navigation guaranteed by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Thirdly, we could try to draw up a code of conduct in the Arctic Ocean on the basis of the agreement on the prevention of incidents on the high seas, which was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union in 1972 and is still in force.

There are disagreements between the United States and Russia on a variety of issues and on the organization of the international system as a whole. In the foreseeable future, a “reset” is not expected in their relations, however, they need to establish a dialogue and work on potential areas of cooperation. The Arctic may become one of them, but only if the United States prevents further deterioration of relations and achieves a reduction in tension in the region, which is of great importance for all countries.


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