Was Putin's Pledge to Clean Up the Arctic Just in Preparation for Messing it Up Again?


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (R) takes measurements of an anesthetized polar bear during a visit to a research institute in the Arctic Ocean. Photo by Alexei Nikolsky/RIA-Novosti/AP via the Moscow Times.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was reportedly shocked to see what a mess the Soviet Union had made of its Arctic territories, prompting a pledge to clean up the thousands of fuel barrels abandoned there, as we wrote last week. But some of the leader's other comments from the same trip seem to indicate that Putin doesn't just have environmental altruism in mind.The prime minister said a lot of the right things about protecting the Arctic -- and its polar bears -- on his recent journey to the region. But, as the Moscow Times wrote:

while the trip highlighted environmental issues, Putin made no secret about Russia having big development plans in the region. "We have naval bases here, an interest in extracting natural resources and in important transportation routes. Many, many interests," Putin said in a video recorded by the Russian Geographical Society.

Nations Eye Arctic Resources as Ice Melts
According to the newspaper, Putin has pledged funds to the geographical society's research in return for the organization's "practical support in the government's plans to develop the Arctic" -- intentions it has also demonstrated by "tapp[ing] Norway's Statoil to provide the necessary expertise to develop the Prirazlomnoye oil field, in the Barents Sea."

Russia's not the only country with its eyes on the Arctic's resources, of course. As melting ice opens up new polar sea routes, the region's potentially enormous oil and gas reserves are becoming more accessible, prompting what Agence France-Presse last year called "a diplomatic tug-of-war" between the five countries that border the area -- Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the United States. The change will mean increased commercial traffic and likely a stepped-up military presence as well, Foreign Policy predicted.

"Putin's visit is a sort of symbol that Russia will pay more attention to Arctic nature," Viktor Nikiforov, an Arctic expert at the World Wildlife Fund, told the Moscow Times. "But with the coming development of the region, it's important that we don't add new problems to old ones."

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Tags: Arctic | Oil | Pollution | Russia