- Vladimir Vladimirovich, should we expect any changes in the model of cooperation between the Arctic states during the United States presidency of the Arctic Council?
I think that we should not expect any radical changes because the continuity is the core principle of the Arctic Council (AC) operation. Besides this, the cooperation in the AC format is based on the principle of consensus. In other words, decisions are adopted unanimously, and this means that they must meet the national interests of all member states of the AC, including Russia.
- What program did America introduce picking up the baton of presidency of the Arctic Council from Canada?
During the U.S. presidency, the cooperation in the area of telecommunications infrastructure, the use of ecologically clean and renewable energy sources, and providing the population of the Far North with quality drinking water will begin. Considerable attention will be paid to the problems of indigenous peoples, as well as improving their psychological stability and preventing the youth suicide. The cooperation in the field of environmental activity will be focused on establishing a network of specially protected natural areas, as well as the protection and study of the marine environment. Practical skills of joint response to emergencies will be also developed. All these cooperation projects are supported by us too.
- The need for a constructive dialogue between the US and Russia is emphasized by both countries, in particular, this was discussed at a recent meeting of the State Commission on Arctic development, an international forum on climate change in the Arctic conducted in August in Anchorage. Is it viable in the current political environment?
The Arctic states have a common understanding that the problems faced by the region must be addressed together since they cannot be solved by acting alone. In the declaration of the ministerial meeting, held in April 2015 in Canada, the AC member states confirmed their commitment to seeking joint solutions to new challenges and sharing new opportunities in the Arctic.
The U.S. initiative to convene a forum on climate change in the Arctic in Anchorage has confirmed once again that a number of issues on the Arctic agenda have a trans-regional dimension. Their solution involves the formation of a broad coalition of interested states. In April, a framework document on reducing emissions of black carbon and methane was adopted by the AC. It included an appeal to extra-regional countries to join this cooperation. It is encouraging that this appeal was heard, and today the Arctic states deal with this problem in cooperation with many European and Asian countries.
The progressive international cooperation in the Arctic involves many countries, but it is the Arctic states that have the biggest responsibility for sustainable development and cooperation in the Arctic. In particular, such an assessment has been given in the joint statement of the Anchorage forum participants.
- At the same time, Russia has its own top priorities in the Arctic, which of them would you highlight?
I think that today's priority is maintaining the Arctic as an area of a dialogue, avoiding politicization of cooperation and ensuring stability in the region. Russia opposes the introduction of the elements of brinkmanship into the Arctic and intends to continue opposing such attempts by developing broad international cooperation and an open dialogue in the region. Such an attitude is largely shared by our neighbors. It stands to reason that the declaration of the AC ministerial meeting reaffirmed the commitment of the Arctic states to the preservation of peace, stability and constructive cooperation.
As for practical tasks, they still include strengthening international cooperation in the field of environmental activity. It is clear that ensuring sustainable development of the Arctic and increasing the quality of life of the Far North population, including indigenous peoples, is impossible without the development of responsible business activity. Arctic states are taking steps in this direction. In 2014, the Arctic Economic Council was established as an independent economic structure of the business community. We hope that its work will contribute to the growth of economic activity in the region and the implementation of joint projects with foreign partners in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation.
- How do the sanctions imposed by the EU and the United States impact economic cooperation?
It is obvious that the introduction of Western sanctions against our country forced us to adjust our plans for the implementation of joint projects, including the development of major oil and gas deposits in the Arctic. However, in these circumstances, we have additional opportunities for the development of mutually beneficial cooperation in the Arctic with our Asian partners, mainly China, India and Vietnam.
I would also like to note that engaging in the Arctic development and exploitation of its resources, we have never relied solely on foreign assistance. In contrast, the emphasis has always been put on the use and improvement of national capacities. But the current situation has given a powerful impetus to the accelerated development of import substitution, and this also refers to our Arctic projects.
- How do you assess the prospects of Russia's application for the expansion of the Arctic continental shelf limits? What Arctic states have already taken the advantage of this opportunity, and what is planned to be done in the future?
In August 2015, the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) received from Russia a partially revised application for defining the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean. Our application is to be presented at the CLCS plenary session in February or March 2016. We have collected an additional and very convincing package of scientific data in support of it. The Russian bid has every chance to succeed.
Norway has already registered its rights to the continental shelf, and received a positive response from the CLCS in 2009. Denmark submitted its bid in December 2014. Canada has not filed an application for defining the outer limits of the Arctic continental shelf yet. The U.S., not being a party to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, cannot apply to the Commission with a bid.
- Vladimir Vladimirovich, do you agree that there are too many emotions in the headlines of some media publications, such as "How to divide the Arctic", "The Arctic pie" and the like?
We read a great deal about the Arctic nowadays. It is regrettable, however, that these publications often lack sufficient knowledge of the matter. The Arctic cannot be approached with the intention to "share everything" and the belief that anyone can participate in this process. Such sentiments pave the way for irresponsible speculation about an imminent conflict over the Arctic.
The international law is fully applicable in the Arctic, particularly, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982, which clearly defines the rights of the Arctic coastal states and other countries. This eliminates the risk of conflict over the access to mineral and aquatic biological resources.
Almost all of the proved hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic Ocean are located within the exclusive economic zones and continental shelf of the Arctic coastal states that determine the order of their exploitation in accordance with their national legislation. Their sovereign right to exploit these deposits is not contested by anyone in the world.
The current bilateral and regional cooperation in the field of the management of marine living resources in the Arctic is also effective.
As for the prospects of fishing on the high seas in the central part of the Arctic Ocean, in July 2015, the Declaration on the prevention of unregulated fishing on the high seas in the Arctic Ocean was signed by the Arctic Five (Russia, USA, Canada, Denmark and Norway) in Oslo. Other interested states may also join these agreements.
Russia has no territorial disputes related to the Arctic. The maritime space is demarked on the basis of bilateral agreements with Norway and the United States, and the line of demarcation is not contested at the interstate level.
Yes, it is clear that applications of the Arctic coastal states for the expansion of the outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean will partially "overlap". If the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf confirms the validity of submitted applications, the "overlapping" areas of the Arctic continental shelf are to be demarked bilaterally through negotiations and on the basis of the international law. This sequence of actions was confirmed in 2008 at the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the Arctic Five in Ilulissat (Greenland, Denmark) and recorded in a separate document, the Ilulissat Declaration. The relevance of provisions stipulated in this document is currently supported by all signers.
The increased attention to the Arctic should certainly be welcomed. Serious and thoughtful media coverage of the Arctic issues in all their diversity can lend serious assistance in the formation of a constructive agenda for the Arctic cooperation and ensuring an effective fulfillment of tasks related to the Russian Arctic zone development.