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Russia plans further development of its Arctic regions.

October 22, 2013, 11:46 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Photo EPA/ESA/HANDOUT

Photo EPA/ESA/HANDOUT

MOSCOW, October 22 (Itar-Tass) - Russia will defend its geopolitical interests in the Arctic areas where the boundaries of its continental shelf have not been defined to date and, on top of that, it will invest in the development of its own remote northern territories, suggests a speech that the federal Minister of Regional Development, Igor Slyuniayev, made at the 11th session of the General Assembly of the Northern Forum.

Experts give the assurances that the Arctic region will be exerting influence on the destinies of the whole world in the coming decades. On the face of it, debates in Russian society continue on whether or not Russia needs the Arctic region at all at a time when it has the hands full of other problems.

The Russian government will expend up to a trillion rubles for the development of northern territories through to 2020, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily quotes Minister Slyuniayev. These plans for financing the Arctic regions were incorporated in a draft state program for the development of northern territories that was endorsed in February 2013.

Total amount of investment will stand at 2 trillion rubles /about $ 611.2 billion/ and a half of it will be drawn from extra-budgetary resources. The monies will be used for construction and modernization of seaports, railway lines, and electric power transmission lines, as well as for the development of urban areas, and ensuring of ecological safety in the course of natural resource production.

The authorities hope the Arctic regions’ contribution to the national economy will grow twofold as a minimum by 2020 and will stand at 14% of the overall GDP versus 6% today.

Social and economic development programs for each specific region should be drafted and endorsed before the end of the year. “In addition, measures regulating and ensuring development of the fishing industry will be designed,” Igor Slyuniayev said.

In addition to it, he mentioned ramification of the network of major roads, as well as expansion of existing railway lines and construction of new ones. All in all, the programs are expected to include more than 60 items.

On this background, discussions of whether or not this country needs the Arctic areas at all have intensified here recently.

President Vladimir Putin made a sharply worded statement October 3 at a meeting with leaders of primary cells of the United Russia as he commented on a private remark in Facebook. He was asked about his personal attitude to a suggestion made by a Russian academic, who called for placing the Arctic areas under the international community’s control.

Dr. Sergei Medvedev, a professor at the Moscow School of Economics wrote in a comment on another person’s post in Facebook: “In essence, it would be an appropriate thing to take the Arctic away from Russia as an irresponsible and failed owner and to transfer it to international jurisdiction akin to Antarctica with a full ban on economic and military activity there.”

“As someone who has lived in Chukchi Peninsula for some time, I know for sure that Russia has never brought any good to the Arctic areas and will never bring it there,” Dr. Medvedev claimed. “The Arctic is a unique and fragile site of world natural and cultural heritage and the USSR turned its vulnerable ecosystem into a desert squelching with oil, contaminated with radiation forever, ripped up with the grooves left by off-road vehicles, and dotted with millions of empty iron jars.”

“The Arctic is an inseparable part of the Russian Federation that has been staying under our sovereignty for several centuries on end and it will remain under sovereignty forever, though all the ages to come,” Putin said.

He recalled that U.S. nuclear submarines were cruising permanently along the Norwegian coast. “U.S. missiles launched from that area can reach Moscow within sixteen to seventeen minutes and that’s why it’s outright nonsense to make assertions about placing the area under someone else’s control. It reflects an anti-national position, to put it mildly.”

Such ideas are extremely harmful from the economic angle of view as well, since the Arctic regions have a wealth of mineral resources, Putin said.

Dr. Sergei Medvedev, who came under a fire of criticism leveled at him by a broad spectrum of political forces, said later he really believes that the Arctic should be transformed into a global natural park where no state will be able to produce mineral resources or engage in any other economic operations or exercise military activity.

The boundaries of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean have not been established conclusively to date. Making claims to it are five Arctic littoral countries - Russia, the U.S., Denmark, Norway, and Canada.

Other countries, which insist on giving the Arctic region the status of an object of universal heritage similarly to Antarctica, have also started laying claims to the Arctic.

The movement for assigning an international status to the Arctic seas exists for several years already. Save the Arctic appeal launched by Greenpeace has been signed by four million people worldwide.

Greenpeace activists tried to board Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya drilling platform in the Pechora Sea September 18. Their action was thwarted by servicemen of the state border department reporting to Russia’s Federal Security Service /FSB/.

Investigations Committee of the Russian Federation instituted a criminal case on charges of piracy carried around by an organized group. All the crewmembers of the Arctic Sunrise icebreaker that had brought the Greenpeace party to the platform were placed under arrest through to November 24.

Investigators have issued official charges to a number of activists who took part in the action and they are now faced with a prospect of ten to fifteen years in jail.

In the meantime, the Russians’ public opinion is split as regards development of the Arctic mineral wealth and territories. A poll taken by the Public Opinion Foundation /FOM/ earlier this month showed that about a half of those polled /45%/ upheld the postulation suggesting that “mineral resources of the Arctic, provided they are explored thee, can and should be developed.”

Along with this, 42% respondents believe the Arctic should be left untouched and pristine, since production of hydrocarbons on the shelf may inflict heavy damage on the environment.

Most Russians /69%/ also think the Arctic should remain a neutral territory, while 17% say the Arctic waters should be divided among the littoral countries.