New York, March 24 – Russia, as experts around the world agree, is likely to be more profoundly affected by climate change than any other country, and Moscow is now focusing on the security threats global warming may entail not only within the country but in its relations with its closest neighbors.
Last week, the Russian Security Council devoted its meeting to these issues, and this week, academic experts and activists discussed them at Moscow Social Forum on Energy Effectiveness and Climate change. Yury Averyanov, a Security Council official who was involved with both, spoke to the media about these issues.
In an extensive interview with “Rossiiskaya gazeta,” Averyanov said that global warming would affect various parts of Russia differently. On the one hand, he said, climate change would have some positive effects on parts of the country extending the growing season, reducing fuel consumption needs, and boosting hydro-power production in some areas.
But on the other, the economist continued, its negative impact on the country both domestically and in terms of its relations with neighboring states to the south and foreign powers in the Arctic region means that the security implications of climate change must always remain at the center of Russian discussion (www.rg.ru/2010/03/19/klimat.html).
Global warming, he said, would increase the dangerous of flooding in many parts of Russia, with excessive runoff into rivers possibly leading to more accidents at hydro-electric dams and at other littoral facilities. And it will profoundly affect the two-thirds of Russian territory which is in the permafrost zone.
It will reduce the size of that zone and increase the depth of annual melting, and “over the next ten to fifteen years,” global warming will destabilize the foundations of “many cities in the zones of eternal permafrost as well as thousands of kilometers of pipelines, automobile and rail roads,” thus increasing the risk of breakdowns and accidents.
“About 80 percent of BAM passes through the permafrost zone. Its melting and the increase in snowfalls will require a review of construction norms and rules given the changes in climate,” Averyanov added. And he noted that “a quarter of the houses built in Tiksi, Yakutsk, Vorkuta, and other population centers will become completely unsuitable for habitation.”
All these developments, the Security Council official said, affect Russia’s national security, but he stressed that there were two other more immediate security challenges that global warming presents. On the one hand, he said, global warning has sparked competition for access to the Arctic, with the US and other countries seeking to limit Russia’s access to that region.
And on the other – and this is a more intriguing comment – Averyanov said that in addition, “the risk of [inter-state] conflicts connected with the deficit of water and food [arising out of climate change] is especially high to the south” of Russia, even though most discussion hitherto has focused on the Arctic instead.
At the climate forum, which took place yesterday, Averyanov said that this threat is no sufficiently great that Russia “must create its own program of ‘climatic assistance’ to its partners, above all in the framework of the Commonwealth of Independent States and the Eurasian Economic Community (eco.rian.ru/business/20100323/215932642.html).
Such assistance, it appears likely, would be directed in the first instance to prevent any massive increase in outmigration from these countries to the Russian Federation as well as to reduce the chance that competition for water and food in Central Asia in particular could trigger new armed conflicts into which Russia might be drawn.
But it is also likely that the offer of such assistance or the arrangements that would be made to realize it would give Moscow a new set of levers on these countries, thus representing yet another instance in which that country like some others has transformed a national security threat into a national security opportunity.