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A Picture of U.S.-Russian Cooperation at D.C. Conference on the Arctic

June 22, 2017 (EIRNS)—The Wilson Center and the Arctic Circle, a non-governmental organization of scientific, political, and business people involved in the development of the Arctic, sponsored a two-day forum ending today at the Wilson Center, offering powerful insights from multiple perspectives on the urgency of maintaining the close cooperation between the United States and Russia in the Arctic, including calls for this cooperation to serve as a model to bring about a restoration of ties more broadly.

Arctic Circle’s initiator Olafur Grimsson, the former President of Iceland (who stood up to the Anglo-Dutch banks and won in 2012), Wilson President Jane Harman, and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski gave opening presentations, making clear that the intent of the event was not only to advance cooperation in the Arctic, but to bring the United States and Russia together for international peace and development. While there were some objections to this, most speakers added their own support for this broader urgent necessity.

Grimsson praised the U.S. chairmanship of the Arctic Council over the past two years (Finland is now taking the chair), noting that the United States had "significant help from Russia," demonstrating that the two countries "can have a very constructive and successful relationship." Jane Harman added that it was important that this conference was being held in Washington, since "most members of Congress know nothing about the Arctic." She said that the close cooperation with Russia in the Arctic "builds a bridge" between the two nations. Sen. Murkowski, who serves also on the "Standing Committee of Arctic Parliamentarians," called for "taking this positive relationship here [in the Arctic] to impact broader U.S.-Russia relations." She said that cooperation between Secretary Tillerson and Foreign Minister Lavrov at the May Arctic Council meeting in Fairbanks facilitated an agreement on scientific cooperation in the Arctic. She also noted that Russia is far ahead of the U.S. in building the necessary infrastructure for Arctic development and the facilitation of the Northern Passage, which is now far more important due to the dramatic recession of the ice cap. She—and many others—noted that the U.S. once had seven icebreakers, and now have one. (The South Korean Ambassador for Arctic Affairs, Kim Young-jun, who spoke later, said that his country had recently presented the first of 15 Korean (Daewoo)-built liquid natural gas tanker/ice breakers to Russia.)

One panel included the former Lt. Gov. of Alaska Mead Treadwell (a close associate of former Governor Walter J. Hickel), together with Russian Senator Igor Chernyshenko, who represents the Murmansk Oblast on the Arctic. Chernyshenko praised the work of the Arctic Council under U.S. chairmanship over the past two years, pointing out that there was no potential for conflict now in the Arctic. He said the bad relations between the United States and Russia at this time was "due to the moods in the Congress." He described some of the 140 projects underway in the Arctic, including the huge Yamal gas, oil, port and rail development, and others, noting the significant Chinese involvement (there were no Chinese participants in the event). He encouraged the U.S. and other foreign investment in the Russian projects, noting that the opening of the Northwest passage facilitates partcipation of all nations, not just the Arctic nations, adding that the current tensions are forcing U.S. companies to lose out on great potentials.

Treadwell also noted the necessity of U.S. cooperation with Russia to fully take advantage of the opening of the Northern passage, proposing a "League of Arctic Ports," to, among other things, facilitate new container traffic through the passage. He noted China’s New Silk Road projects and their huge investments, calling on the U.S. government to engage in funding for U.S. engagement in the region.

In the question-and-answer period, EIR referenced the 2006 Moscow forum on building a tunnel under the Bering Strait, LaRouche’s presentation there, Putin’s description of the project as a "war avoidance" policy, and the support from Governor Hickel, asking if it were not now even more urgent to proceed with this. Treadwell answered that his friend Governor Hickel had said about the Bering Strait Tunnel: "It will not happen in my lifetime, but we must keep talking about it every day." Treadwell said that every project, big or small, to drive cooperation with Russia was extremely important, and described a joint ship-monitoring system now being developed for the Bering Sea. He also pointed to a recent agreement to pursue the building of a rail connection from the lower 48 states through Canada to Alaska, and noted that such a rail line could eventually reach the Strait and proceed on to Russia via a tunnel.

Senator Chernyshenko tried to add his response, but was cut off by the chair, who then closed the panel.

Alaskan Rep. Don Young also spoke, decrying the fact that "our media peddles the idea that Russia is our enemy— there is no reason." He said that the Arctic is our future.

Georgy Karlov, the Deputy Chairman of the Duma representing Sakhalin, said that developing the Arctic is like developing space, both because the technological problems are similar in many respects, but also because the harsh condition mean that no country can do it alone, that all nations need to cooperate. "The U.S. and the Russian went to space separately, but now they work closely together."

Kathleen Crane, the coordinator of RU.S.ALCA (Russia-American Long-term Census of the Arctic-Rusalca means mermaid in Russian), spoke on the both the close cooperation of Russian and American scientists on mapping the Arctic since the founding of RU.S.ALCA in 2003, but also her sorrow that the sanctions have largely undermined their mission.

Other issues of note from the forum:

  • South Korea established a Korean Arctic Academy in 2015, connecting dozens of universities across the Arctic region for research, student exchanges and more.

  • It was reported that Dalian has been declared to be China’s "Arctic Port." The 5th China-Nordic Arctic Cooperation Symposium was held in Dalian in May, with institutes from the Nordic countries. Several people brought up the need for the U.S. to build a deep water port on the north Alaska shore to facilitate trade and development.

  • China, Japan and South Korea held a forum on Arctic cooperation in Tokyo on June 8, concluding that "the melting of ice brings new opportunities, such as natural resources and marine fisheries, in the Arctic, as well as the opening of sea routes." All three are observers in the Arctic Council.