Vienna, March 18 – The Russian Federation transportation ministry announced this week that it is drafting legislation that will define Moscow’s understanding of the exact dimensions of the Northern Sea Route and set up a new federal agency to regulate traffic and collect fees from foreign shipping concerns.
While the ministry gave no additional details, comments by both President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about the Arctic and the role Moscow plans for Russia to play there suggest that the new law will lay down yet another a challenge to both Arctic littoral states and others as well (www.regnum.ru/news/1263395.html).
Yesterday, President Medvedev told a session of the Russian Security Council dealing with climate change that any “restrictions” on Russia’s “access to the development of hydrocarbon fields in the Arctic is unacceptable” (http://www.barentsobserver.com/restriction-of-russias-access-to-arctic-fields-inadmissible-medvedev.4760562-116320.html).
In other comments, he “warned that climate change” will dramatically affect the high Arctic not only by opening it for the exploitation of raw materials and natural resources but also for the more intensive use of the Northern Sea Route for shipping, both Russian and international.
“We already observe attempts to restrict Russia’s access to exploration and development” in the Arctic, the Kremlin leader said, attempts that are “of course inadmissible from a legal point of view and unfair taking into account our geographical location and the history of our country.”
Medvedev’s remarks came only two days after Prime Minister Putin expressed himself in characteristically blunt language on the subject. Speaking to the Russian Geographic Society, the head of government said that there had been “much noise,” all of it “absolutely unfounded,” about Russia’s planting of its national flag on the seabed at the North Pole.
“Nobody [is] preventing anyone from putting a flag on the North Pole,” Putin said. “Let those [complaining about what Russia has done in this regard] plant their own flags [there] if they are able to do so” (www.barentsobserver.com/putin-much-noise-about-the-arctic.4760102-116320.html).
In his speech, Putin insisted that Moscow is working within UN rules and that Russia will host an international conference April 22-23 on “The Arctic – a Territory of Dialogue.” Such a title may make Russia’s efforts sound benign, but Putin’s own remarks and Moscow’s plans for a new agency suggest others involved the region may take a different view.