By Paul Goble
At present, because of the war in Ukraine, negotiations about the future of the Arctic are on pause; but once the war is over – and that will happen sometime – then the fate of the Arctic is likely to depend on whether Russia continues to tilt toward China or shifts its orientation toward Europe, Ilya Shumanov says.
The former director of the Russian branch of Transparency International who has now established an Arctic working group to think about the future of Russia in the North says that this choice is likely to prove crucial and determine much that happens when talks between Moscow and the other Arctic powers resume (reforum.io/blog/2023/06/28/arktika-odna-iz-tochek-kotoraya-mozhet-vernut-rossiyu-za-stol-peregovorov/).
He says he created this group and launched its research effort, including a new 129-page report on Russia in the Arctic (arctida.io/ru/projects/key-stakeholders-arctic-russian-politics/Arctida_Key_Stakeholders_Russian_Arctic_Politics_report), because Moscow’s approach is simultaneously too narrow and short term or too broad to be effective.
It is too narrow and short term in that there is a plethora of government agencies and firms involved, few of which look beyond their own narrow interests now; and it is too broad as in the case of the decision to combine Arctic issues and those of the Russian Far East in a single ministry.
As a result, there is little long-term thinking in Moscow about the Arctic, something that will become ever more important after the departure of Putin makes possible international interaction again and that means that decisions about what Moscow does broadly in the North will determine many outcomes.
“If a regime loyal to China comes to power in Russia,” Shumanov argues, then “the expanded economic exploitation of the Arctic economic one is inevitable, something beneficial to Japan, China and the other Asian tigers.” But if it focuses on Europe, there is a good chance that the Arctic will become an international reserve much as Antarctica already is.