These days, it appears as though Russia and the United States cannot agree on anything. But that’s not true. The two countries are stepping up cooperation in the Arctic, hoping to strengthen security in a region that was once covered in ice most of the year but is now is more accessible than ever before.
Speaking during an interview with the Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily, First Deputy Secretary of the Russian Security Council Yuri Timofeevich Averyanov said that a dialogue between Moscow and Washington is productive, and can serve as an example for cooperation in other areas.
“Although the general public doesn’t know about it as much as about our cooperation on other topics, yet, a dialogue [on Arctic-related issues] is maintained,” he said. “Our contacts on Arctic affairs are quite constructive and fruitful.”
At a time of highly charged bilateral relations, where Moscow and Washington hardly take the same position on geopolitical issues – from Ukraine to Syria and Iran, to allegations of spying in the United Kingdom, and issues considering transnational gas pipelines in the Baltic – the two are still responsible for managing a shared maritime border along the Bering Strait near Alaska and around the Arctic Ocean.
The Arctic is a place of competition and cooperation. Both sides have a shared interest in safeguarding the Arctic’s waters, ensuring that the waterways can become economically beneficial for all parties, while also pursuing scientific research and preserving the environment.
“In general, we are confident that the development of Russian-American dialogue on topical issues of the Arctic agenda will help enhance security in the region and may lay the basis for further cooperation between Moscow and Washington in other areas,” he added.
Greater cooperation in the Arctic can also mitigate the risks of an “Arctic arms race” between NATO nations and Russia that turns the region into a potential venue for conflict and competition.
“It should be noted that the Americans are not seeking to dodge such dialogue. Thus, U.S. officials regularly take part in international meetings organized under the auspices of the Russian Security Council,” he said in the interview.
Russian officials are willing to cooperate with representatives from the Arctic states, which includes Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States. The Russian Security Council organized an international high-level meeting of the Arctic Council, which took place from September 30 through October 2, to discuss Arctic-related issues such as protecting indigenous communities, sustainable development and environmental protection.
The three-day conference also included representatives from China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Singapore, all which participated at the meeting as observers.
The Arctic region is said to be rich in natural resources. With new sea lanes opening up due to warming global temperatures, opportunities for exploiting oil and gas reserves put a competitive edge on the relationship between Russia and the U.S.
According to the United States Energy Information Administration estimations, the area may contain nearly 30 percent of the world’s remaining natural gas and 13 percent of its oil under the bottom of the northern seas. In addition, a climate change-induced ice melt at the North Pole opened up new and important shipping routes that provide 40 percent shorter distances between Europe and East Asia.