Russia revives the debate on the sovereignty of the Arctic

La Russie ravive le débat sur la souveraineté de l'Arctique

The recent strategies of Russia in the Arctic, have revived the debate on the intentions of the country and on Canada’s place in the northern territory.

At the end of January, the daily Russian “Izvestia” reported that the Russian army had decided to return to his patrols to the North pole for the first time in 30 years. The patrols will be in addition to the regular passages of bombers that make up the boundaries of the airspace of the usa and canada.

Whitney Lackenbauer, a specialist of the Arctic, and a professor of history at the University of Waterloo, believes that the country sends clearly a “strategic message”.

Military Bases of the soviet-era renovated

Russia strengthens its civilian and military capabilities in the North for a dozen years.

Military bases dating from the soviet era have been renovated. Observers of foreign policy have identified four new combat teams, the brigade, arctic, 14 new airfields operational, 16 deep-water ports and a 40-ice-breakers, as well as 11 other in construction.

The patrols of bombers were rather stable. NORAD has reported up to 20 comments and 19 interceptions per year.

The commercial infrastructure has also increased. A vast new gas field has been opened up in the Yamal peninsula, on the central coast of Russia. The control and development of the Northern sea route – the Russian equivalent of the northwest passage – have been entrusted to an agency of the central government. According to news agencies, the Russian federation, the volume of freight is expected to grow from 7.5 million tonnes in 2016 to 40 million tons in 2020.

Canada does not seem to be able to measure up to this.

A road has been completed on the arctic coast in Tuktoyaktuk, in the northwest Territories, and work is underway to a port in Iqaluit, Nunavut. The first patrol ship arctic has been established, satellite-based monitoring has been improved, and a refueling has been built on Baffin island.

But most of the ambition in infrastructure are not carried out in the North.

There is no road passable in any season in the Mackenzie valley or in the centre-north of the North-West Territories, rich in minerals. The modern needs, such as high-speed internet, are still not accessible in most of the regions of the North. And the construction of a new icebreaker has been delayed.

The liberal government, which is at the end of the term, has not yet filed official policy on the Arctic.

A spokesman for the global Business Canada, Richard Walker, said by email that the government “firmly maintains” its presence in the North to protect canadian sovereignty in the Arctic. He recalled that the country was cooperating with all members of the Arctic Council, including Russia, to advance common interests such as sustainable development, the role of indigenous peoples, environmental protection and scientific research.

“Because of the harsh environmental conditions and the high cost of operations in the Arctic, in Canada’s opinion, the cooperation between the Arctic nations, which is essential, has supported Mr Walker. Even if we do not perceive military threats are immediate in the arctic region, our access monitoring suptentrionnaux our country continues to viligante.”

Canada invited to act

Canada must keep pace, especially because we cannot rely on the current international order, said John Higginbotham, Centre for innovation in the international governance of the University of Waterloo.

“If the global system breaks, we will have a world of blocks. The blocks will have the power to close the channels of international shipping”, he argued.

“It is a strategic mistake terrible for Canada to abandon its own sea route.”

The dominance of the Arctic would also give Russia a powerful map to play, said Rob Huebert of the Centre for military and strategic studies University of Calgary.

“This gives you the presence, he explained. Whenever problems occur elsewhere – we have already seen the behavior of the Russians – they start to make overflights of other countries to exert pressure.”

Norway, the baltic countries and the United Kingdom have all reported an increase in the number of airspace violations, said Mr. Huebert.

Few people expect that the Russian troops landed on the North pole. The country is in the process of the United Nations to draw boundaries in the arctic waters and is a productive member of the Arctic Council.

“There is a lively debate about the offensive character of their position,” said dr. Lackenbauer. The Russians insist on the fact that it is a purely defensive. It also provides opportunities for safe navigation and secure on the Northern sea route.”

“The bear is awakening”

But Canada would be wrong to ignore the bear that wakes up, said Ron Wallace, of the canadian Institute of world affairs in Calgary.

“It is important that Canadians are aware of their Arctic, the circumpolar Arctic and what is happening in the North,” he pointed out.

Canada is unlikely to gain much in the style of russia’s development based on the command and control, said Mr. Wallace, but there are lessons to be learned. The combination of military and civilian infrastructures.

“This is the kind of thinking that I have not seen here, but it is the reflection that the Russians use”, he argued.

“They see in the trade route of the North a pretext to establish military bases at the same time they are working with the Chinese to open trade routes for the export of their resources.”

This would also help the federal government to fulfill its promises to respect the territorial governments, said Mr. Wallace.

“Somewhere in the middle, there is a better policy for the north of Canada.”

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