- Pax Russica: Russia’s Role in the Race for the Arctic
In his essay for this issue, “The Ilulissat Declaration,” Klaus Dodds critiques the claim that the Arctic is in the grip of a sea “scramble.” Rather than resembling a “new Great Game,” a term used to describe fierce competition for resources and strategic access in a region, Dodds argues that the decision-making process governing the Arctic demonstrates the maturity of the global strategic order. Countries that were previously at loggerheads have diplomatically resolved their disagreements, Dodds notes. In contrast, Jon Carlson’s “Scramble for the Arctic” focuses upon the many claims to sovereignty in the Arctic, and the lengths to which littoral states may go to secure their own economic, security, and political ambitions in the region. Chief among these states is Russia, which lays claim to the largest portion of the Arctic. Yet both Carlson and Dodds arrive at a similar conclusion: the Arctic is a beacon of international cooperation.
While Russia has cooperated with the Arctic Council and the “Arctic Five,” Russia’s increased presence in the Arctic—along with its use of nationalist language and imagery—indicates that Russia’s intentions in the region may reflect more self-interest than Dodds and Carlson suggest. Though other countries have engaged in military and economic build-up in the region, Russia is unique in its implementation—notably, its clever use of nationalism and fortified demonstrations of military power.
Dodds begins his essay with a reference to the planting of a Russian flag on the Arctic seabed by a Duma deputy chairman in the summer of 2007. The flag, tethered to a rust-proof titanium pole at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, was placed on the disputed Lomonosov Ridge, a point of territorial [End Page 57] contention between Canada, Denmark and Russia. Lomonosov Ridge is not merely a symbolic territory; rather, it sits atop a large store of natural resources. The incident was partly responsible for inspiring the creation of the Arctic Five and the Ilulissat Declaration, in which the five Arctic countries (the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark) agreed “to act responsibly and cooperatively” in the Arctic.
Dodds’ interpretation of this agreement tends towards the optimistic, as he views Russia as adopting a cooperative attitude toward the other Arctic states. However, the creation of a legal status quo among Arctic littoral states and an intensification of Russian activity in the Arctic are not mutually exclusive, especially under President Vladimir Putin’s autocratic, mercurial leadership. Throughout his tenure as president and prime minister, Putin has exploited rising Russian nationalism in justifying any number of expansionist policies, from expanded development in the Russian Far East to protection of Russian minorities in the formerly Soviet-occupied Baltic states.
Then-Prime Minister Putin’s 2010 statement that “it is very important to maintain the Arctic as region of peace and co-operation”1 spoke more to the projected power balance between himself and then-President Medvedev, rather than any meaningful intention to maintain stability in the region. The system under the iterations of the Putin-Medvedev regime has resulted in both men taking strong positions on separate issues in order to present a powerful, uniform leadership. In 2011, Medvedev remarked, “it’s our shores, and it’s our sea,” defending Russia’s rights to explore and secure what it defined as its portion of the Arctic.2 The rapidly melting ice, and the longer periods of ice-free transit, have accelerated Russia’s race towards Arctic sovereignty. Russian leadership have realized that the relative expansion of the Arctic sea routes will bring non-littoral actors—and thus threats to Russia’s sovereignty—to the region.
Medvedev has made public statements regarding Russia’s sovereign right to defend the territory with its military might, as well. In his essay, Carlson analyzes Russia’s claims to the Arctic and its willingness to protect its interests militarily, including strategies like regular bomber flights and naval expeditions. This willingness has only increased since Medvedev’s “it’s our shores” statement and Putin’s re-ascension to the presidency. In September 2013, Russia announced its intentions to re-open a...