Speaking at an Arctic Council meeting in Norway, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country had no plans to ramp up its military presence in the Arctic, according to a report by AFP.
“We are not planning to increase our armed forces presence in the Arctic,” Lavrov announced to the press in the Norwegian town of Tromsoe.
“The decisions taken provide for strengthening the potential of the coast guard,” a move required because the melting ice cap has led to more activity in the region, he said.
Lavrov’s statement, however, flies in the face of a document disclosed in March that a new national security strategy featured plans to create army units in Russia’s Arctic region to “guarantee military security in different military-political situations,” according to a report in the London Times.
As set forth in the document, the strategy, approved by President Medvedev, declared the Arctic to be nothing less than Russia’s most important arena for “international and military security” in its relations with other countries.
At that time, it was further announced that a coastguard unit of the Federal Security Service -- the successor to the KGB -- was planned to promote Russia’s policy in the region.
The March strategy further sought the fixing in place of an intelligence network to provide “effective control of economic, military, [and] ecological activity” in the Arctic, according to the Times.
Not mentioned in Lavrov’s remarks – an apparent attempt to defuse tensions over the control of rich resources lurking underwater in the Arctic – is the fact that Russia is hard at work on legislation to fix tight controls over navigation through its northern coasts -- as melting Arctic sea ice makes the route more commercially feasible to shipping.
Lavrov’s latest pronouncement also skipped over the Russia’s Security Council’s strong declaration in March that domain over the region’s oil and gas resources would be a vital national objective in the years stretching out to 2020.
Reportedly, the polar region contains billions of tons of oil and gas, which will be increasingly accessible as the ice cap melts.
Lavrov’s public relations came on the heels of Russia’s National Security Council’s own effort to defuse international concern over the March document. Late last month it issued its own disclaimer, declaring that Moscow did not plan to militarize the Arctic.
As Lavrov reiterated in his Norway announcement this week, according to the AFP: “The existing legislation in the world allows [us] to deal successfully with all issues which might arise.”
Whether or not the world community believes the touted moderate stance by Russia remains to be seen. In the meantime, bordering countries still scramble and posture to make territorial claims in the resources-rich Arctic.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere called for cooperation in the Arctic region.
“We will as responsible governments and coastal states be able to manage the challenges and opportunities of this region without gliding into conflict and negative competition,” he told reporters.
Key to that management is the 1982 international Convention on the Law of the Sea, which regulates territorial claims and management of the seas.
Believing that possession is indeed nine-tenths of the law, in 2007 Russia planted its flag on the seabed some 13,000 feet beneath the North Pole.
Artur Chilingarov, the scientist who led the expedition to the Arctic seabed, countered the softer tones issuing from Lavrov, warning this week that Russia would not “stand still” in the competition for the region’s resources -- it would assert its national interests, according to the AFP.
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