Arctic heat

December 11, 2013 - 7:31:56 am

Canada’s claim to the Arctic has set the cat among the pigeons in the Kremlin, and an alarmed Putin is likely to commit foreign policy errors. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin has reacted with alacrity after Canada staked a claim on the North Pole. The North Pole has been in the international glare for a few years with the Arctic rim nations claiming the riches, mainly oil and gas, under the sea. It is estimated that the North Pole continental shelf has 13 percent of oil reserves and 30 percent of hidden natural gas reserves. Increasing reliance on energy and a projected exponential rise in demand for hydrocarbon products have kept the region on tenterhooks for the last few years.  Russia’s Gazprom is the Big Brother among the entities exploring the region for the product that is seen to influence the dynamics of geopolitics and geostrategy. A defiant Putin yesterday asked his troops to bolster their presence in the Arctic.  Weeks ago, Putin had 30 Greenpeace protesters, including some journalists, arrested for trying to board an oil platform owned by the energy giant Gazprom. Last year, senior members of the international environmental advocacy group had boarded the platform and flown the flag without meeting much resistance. 

Canada says that an undersea mountain range called the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of its territory in the Arctic. Russia, it seems, is trying to pre-empt the move by other Pacific Rim nations to hover on the strategic wealth of the Arctic. 

With Ukraine burning in its neighbourhood and the volatile Caucuses behaving like quicksand for Russian foreign policy, Putin’s move to boost security presence reeks of desperation. The Kremlin has not come out of the Cold War disposition of asserting its presence even in the face of excruciatingly difficult circumstances which make its response look preposterous and pugnacious. Putin’s announcement comes in the wake of the government dissolving the RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency. He declared plans to form a news agency called Rossia Segodnaya or Russia Today, which is to be headed by a notorious news anchor known for his anti-Western and 

non-progressive views. 

Putin has tried to straddle the Arctic by throwing around the weight of the Russian nation or whatever has been left of it. From Kaliningrad to Vladivostok, the country of Leo Tolstoy, who wrote War and Peace, is engaged in an exercise to assert its presence in the region by means as far from righteousness as can be. 

The move to dissolve the news agency smacks of a tendency to engage in propaganda. Similarly, arm-twisting the Caucasus nations and virtually coercing Ukraine to join a customs union instead of letting it get closer to the European Union are an extension of Moscow’s highly flawed policy towards its neighbours.  Canada is no Ukraine or Georgia. 

The North American nation belongs to the select club of countries known for its progressive and liberal outlook combined with a propensity for welfare measures for its population. In taking on Canada, Putin is committing a strategic error for which Russia may have to pay dearly in the long run•
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