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Russia and the Changing Geopolitics of the Arctic

Monday, March 2, 2009

Over the past two years, the Arctic Circle has been the object of both exciting and alarming speculation. The planting of the Russian flag on the North Pole sea floor led to stories of a race to claim its resources. The opening of the fabled Northwest Passage and Russia's Northern Sea Route led to reports of shortened trade routes -- saving thousands of miles and many days at sea -- between Europe and the Far East. Government forecasts of large -- if as-yet undiscovered -- oil and gas reserves have given rise to concerns over sovereignty, security and sustainability throughout the region. Finally, the plight of the polar bear in an era of greatly reduced ice cover raised conservation concerns over protecting endangered species.

The highlights of the past two years are in fact the result of changes over the past 30. Over that time, winter ice cover has declined by nearly 10 percent. Summertime observations in 2007 revealed the area of ice cover reduced by one third from its 1979-2000 average. These changes have raised hopes of economic development and concerns for the environment. In preparation for possible discoveries of resources on the sea floor, attention has first turned to securing recognition of jurisdictional claims in the Arctic seas, which in turn determine rights to mineral resources on the ocean floor. ...

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