The Russian Federation's harsh northern frontier, for centuries frozen solid most of the year is now slowly becoming a warm blessing for Moscow. With a natural wealth estimated by some to be worth trillions of dollars, the vast and yet relatively untouched Arctic region is said to be one of the world's last and most lucrative regions for energy exploitation. Claiming by-far the largest single share of the territory in question, Moscow stands poised to hit the jackpot. Its antagonists, needless to say, are preparing for a confrontation. Consequently, the Russian Federation has significantly increased its military presence in the region recently, but so have the United States and Canada. Cold War may eventually take on a whole new meaning. The Arctic region has been making a lot of news lately. Russia's official debut in the Arctic came about three years ago when in a record setting expedition the world famous Russian-Armenian explorer-politician Arthur Chilingarov placed the flag of the Russian Federation on ocean bottom of the North Pole. With energy supplies gradually being exhausted throughout the world, the Arctic region will no doubt become one of the world's most hotly contested territories in the future. Additional materials posted on this page includes news articles about Medvedev's recent visit to Russia's Kuril Islands, yet another strategically significant territory that is also said to have large amounts of oil and gas deposits.
Russia Presents Vision For Arctic Wealth
Russia to create Arctic armed forces (RT video): http://www.youtube.com/user/RussiaToday#p/search/0/rXrG5vNrvGM
Russia to create Arctic armed forces (RT video): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXrG5vNrvGM
Three years after Russian divers thrust a rust-proof flag into the seabed below the North Pole, the country is again staking its claim on the Arctic region. An international forum held in Moscow Wednesday aimed to "present the world community with a picture of the region's future as it is seen by the Russian experts," according to Sergei Shoigu, the President of the Russian Geographical Society (RGS) who is also the country's Emergencies Minister. The Arctic contains a vast wealth of untapped oil and natural gas, according to a report released in July 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey. It estimated that the amount of "undiscovered, technically recoverable" oil north of the Arctic Circle was more than double the amount that had been previously found in the Arctic. It added that the Arctic contained more than three times as much undiscovered gas as oil, most of which was in the Russian Arctic.
Russia has long sought to claim rights to the waters of the Arctic Ocean off Russia, including its much-publicized expedition to plant the Russian flag on the Arctic sea floor in August 2007. On Wednesday, it announced plans to start work soon on a new atlas of the Arctic, a task Sergei Shoigu described as requiring "extensive, serious work." He said it would include descriptions on potentially dangerous areas in the Arctic which may be of interest to companies working in the region. Along with having the largest land mass in the Arctic, Russians account for half of the Arctic's population and the most populous towns above the Arctic Circle lie in Russia, according to the Russian Geographical Society. "Russia is distinct from other Arctic nations in that a large share of its population actually lives in the Arctic region," Russian Presidential Advisor for Climate Alexander Bedritsky told the Arctic Forum. "Russia's Arctic sector, inhabited by 1.5 percent of the country's population, accounts for 11 percent of its GDP and 22 percent of its exports," Bedritsky said.
While Russia counts for the bulk of Arctic land, seven other states have land in Arctic territory: Canada, Denmark (Greenland), the United States (Alaska), Iceland, Norway, Sweden, and Finland. No single country owns the geographic North Pole or the Arctic Ocean, which covers around one third of the total area. Under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, the eight states have jurisdiction over waters extending 12 nautical miles from their shore, and their exclusive economic zones stretch up to 200 nautical miles into the Arctic Ocean. Russia is among a number of countries seeking to extend their jurisdiction by gathering scientific data to back their case for consideration by the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. Russia and Canada clashed as recently as last week over which country controls the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain running underneath the Arctic.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russian explorers had confirmed that the ridge was a continuation of Russia's continental shelf, despite Canada's claims otherwise. "The decision should be based on scientific facts. The Commission will solve who is right," Lavrov said, according to Russian news agency Itar-Tass News. In August, Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon said establishing sovereignty in the Arctic was the country's "top foreign-policy priority." "That is why we are making new and targeted investments, be they patrol ships, a new polar-class icebreaker, reinforcements to our Canadian Rangers, better monitoring of our airspace and seas and the list goes on," he said. The melting of ice in the Arctic through climate change has opened up a region that was once inaccessible. In mid-September, the U.S. National Ice and Snow Data Center at the University of Colorado reported that this summer the Arctic sea ice reached the third lowest level ever recorded.
"We are still looking at summers with an ice-free Arctic Ocean in perhaps 20 to 30 years," said Mark Serreze, University of Colorado geography professor and director of the NISDC. Environmental group Greenpeace says Russia's decision to assemble international experts at a Moscow forum was a further attempt to stake its claim on the region's resources. "The more people talk about it the better it is but I think the reality is that the bunfight has already started," said Charlie Kronick, group's senior climate advisor. He said rather than "chasing the last drop of oil" governments would do better to spend their time and money making greater efforts to curb energy demand. "What we would say is 'don't even think about digging this stuff up -- it is crazy at the moment and the first thing we need to do is to reduce demand,'" he said. He added: "However big the notional oil and gas reserves are up in the Arctic, we have already got more oil and gas than we can afford to burn if we don't want to cook the climate." The Arctic Forum finishes Thursday.
Russia open for dialogue on Arctic problems - Putin
Russia wants to continue an open discussion of key Arctic problems, including nature protection and climate change, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Saturday. "Therefore we have decided to hold Arctic forums annually," Putin said at the 14th congress of the Russian Geographic Society. The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue international forum, which was held in Moscow on September 22-23, gathered delegates from 16 countries. Famous polar explorer and State Duma Artur Chilingarov proposed holding the next forum in Arkhangelsk, located in the northern part of European Russia and known as the birthplace of great Russian 18th century scientist Mikhail Lomonosov. Putin also said he had established a special organization which will handle the development of the new Russian Arctic national park.
Medvedev: The Arctic is best without NATO
Russia strongly dislikes NATO activities in the Arctic, President Dmitry Medvedev confirmed this week. Of course, Russia with a significant degree of tension perceives NATO activities in the Arctic, President Medvedev told reporters in Wednesday’s press conference in Murmansk. Asked by a journalist about Russian positions on NATO presence in the region, Medvedev said that “the Arctic can manage fine without NATO”. –This [area] is part of our common wealth, which does really not have any relation to military objectives, the President said. –This is a zone of peaceful cooperation and the presence of a military factor always creates additional questions, he added, a transcript from the press conference reads. President Medvedev was in Murmansk together with Norway’s Premier Jens Stoltenberg for the signing ceremony on the delimitation deal on the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. In the same press conference, PM Stoltenberg stressed that Norway’s membership in NATO is no hinder for the country to develope good relations with Russia.
Russia increases combat capabilities in Arctic
Russia is currently increasing its combat potential in the Arctic with new ships and additional station sites, Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said on Saturday. Russian naval ships and submarines have already conducted over ten military patrols of the Arctic in 2010, Vysotsky said. "In accordance with the Russian Armed Forces' plan of strategic deterrence we take measures aimed to demonstrate military presence in the Arctic," the navy commander said. The Russian Navy is currently taking measures to integrate the Glonass satellite system with the RSDN-20 radio-technical navigation system, he added. The RSDN-20 is a navaid used to determine positions of aircraft, vessels and submarines; however its effectiveness is low. Integration with Glonass will allow the system to determine positions of objects with the accuracy of 1-5 kilometers. Glonass - the Global Navigation Satellite System - is the Russian equivalent of the U.S. Global Positioning System, or GPS, and is designed for both military and civilian use. Both systems allow users to determine their positions to within a few meters. Russia and other countries with an Arctic coastline all lay claims to the region's seabed, said to contain one quarter of the world's mineral resources. The untapped riches are becoming more accessible due to melting ice. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told a recent international conference in Moscow that the Arctic would not become a battleground as potential territory disputes could be resolved through negotiation.
Norway Urges Canada-Russia Accord on Arctic
The recommendation follows this week’s signed maritime delimitation agreement between Norway and Russia. The deal ends the two countries’ own 40-year-old disagreements, allowing exploration of natural resources as well as opening up new trade routes. According to Norway’s Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Støre several countries with interests in the Arctic have approached Norway for advice on how to conduct negotiations with Russian representatives, including Canada. Canadian Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon has been on tour of Norway and Russia, and held meetings with Russian officials in Moscow yesterday. "Minister Cannon has shown a keen interest in this process since before we concluded this agreement," Støre told The Canadian Press from Arkhangelsk in Northern Russia.
The Arctic Ocean was once impenetrable but with the prospect of significant ice melting, has become a reason for dispute between countries wishing to “get their share” of oil and gas deposits in the region. Some countries like Norway and Russia make progress in pursuing their policies, whilst some perceive Canada as country bringing up the rear. “Everyone else is sorting out their differences, we really are the laggards,” Professor Michael Byers, Global Politics and International Law chair at the University of British Columbia, told the Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail. Professor Byers is preoccupied with Canada’s maritime boundary disputes. Canada also has disagreements with the US regarding the Beaufort Sea, Denmark over the Hans Island, as well as Ellesmere Island and Greenland, according to CBC News. He has said he believes Canada could settle their territorial claims if they approach the matters seriously within a two-year timeframe. “This will be decided purely on the basis of the geology and international law. The Law of the Sea Convention has incredibly detailed provisions that are entirely science-based,” he told Canada’s online news site The Star.
Hope in sight?
Last month, Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon expressed determination to deal with Canada’s disputes in the Arctic. “Making progress on outstanding boundary issues will be a top priority,” he said. Both Russia and Canada are seeking UN involvement to help settle their territorial disputes. Foreign Minister Støre suggested both countries should consider negotiating for themselves, however. "This is the way to go. I'm certain that Canada and Russia, being Arctic coastal states, have real steps to explore on a number of areas," he said.
Icebreaker Rossiya Completes Arctic Expedition
Russia's nuclear-powered icebreaker Rossiya has successfully completed its Arctic expedition by returning to the northern port of Murmansk, RIA Novosti correspondent reported. The expedition, led by the president's envoy to the Arctic and Antarctic, Artur Chilingarov, delivered a drifting research station onto an ice floe to carry out a study on the Arctic's water area and climate conditions. RIA Novosti correspondent Alexander Stelliferovsky took part in the expedition. Russia and other countries with an Arctic coastline are laying claims to the region's sea floor, said to contain one quarter of the world's mineral resources. The untapped riches are becoming more accessible due to melting ice. The vast hydrocarbon deposits that will become more accessible as rising global temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice have brought the Arctic to the center of geopolitical wrangling between Russia and the other nations that border the region. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that the Arctic would not become a battleground as potential territory disputes could be resolved through negotiation.
RA flag raised in Northern polar handed to Serzh Sargsyan
Vice President of Union of Armenians of Russia, well known polar explorer and politician Arthur Chiligarov reported today at UAR Assembly that following Armenian President’s admonition he raised the state flag of Armenia in Northern pole. Panorama.am reporter tells that Hero of Soviet Union and Russian Federation Arthur Chiligarov handed the flag to President Serzh Sargsyan accompanied by applauses. The polar explorer said he raised the flag of UAR and handed it to Union’s President Ara Abrahamyan. It’s worth reminding that President Serzh Sargsyan pays visit to Russian Federation to attend the Assembly.
Fighting Over The Arctic
In the end of January Security Council’s new strategy of development of Arctic regions will be made public in Russia. Its main objective is participation in partition of natural recourses of the Arctic Ocean. However the USA are also not going to refuse their claims for Arctic regions. The President George Bush has published the instruction which contains the order to the Senate to ratify the international Law of the Sea Convention according to which the USA will participate in partition of Arctic regions with other countries in the nearest future, Kommersant business daily reports. Arctic region is a strategic value for Russia, according to Dmitry Medvedev’s statement made in September of last year, and in the 21st century it should become the resource base of the country.
Scientists consider that the continental shelf of the Arctic can contain about 20 per cent of world's reserves of hydrocarbons which are the main components of oil. Besides, on shelves of Barents and Kara seas unique gas deposits were found. Moreover the local fishing industry provides 15 per cent of total amounts of fish production in Russia. Extreme importance of development of this region in the context of national safety strategy does not exclude use of military force in solving of the arising problems in the conditions of competitive struggle for resources in Arctic. The USA are also ready to fight for Arctic to the victorious end. As the document signed by Bush says, “the USA have wide and fundamental national interests in the Arctic region”. These interests mention such strategically important spheres, as antimissile defence, strategic restraint, and marine operations on safety maintenance.
In the document it’s underlined that “the USA also have basic interests of internal security. Prevention of terrorist attacks and criminal or hostile actions which could increase vulnerability of the USA for terrorism in the Arctic region are among the state’s objectives”. However in the American document it is marked that the US plan to achieve their goals peacefully. Until now the USA remains the last Arctic country which has not yet ratified Law of the Sea Convention. That interrupts international partition of the Arctic region.
In May of last year five coastal countries of the Arctic Ocean – Russia, the USA, Canada, Norway and Denmark – have agreed to begin negotiations about partition of Arctic regions on the basis of existing conventions and have decided not to accept any new documents so far. The Senate has been objecting joining the Convention for a long time as it might deprive the USA an independent choice of the strategy of development of Arctic regions. Non-alignment to the international Convention theoretically could allow the American Congress to accept the law proclaiming the North Pole their territory, Kommersant business daily reports. Now it is supposed that the instruction published by George Bush will be now ratified by the new President Barak Obama.
Nordic Military Alliance to Challenge Russia in Arctic
Four Scandinavian countries together with Iceland could form a Nordic military alliance to protect their interests in Arctic, says a report presented by Norway at a special meeting of the countries’ foreign ministers. The report presented by a veteran Norwegian politician Thorvald Stoltenberg proposes co-operation not limited to a joint military force, but also includes potential joint efforts in international security, air surveillance, air patrols, maritime monitoring and medical services. The report also calls for an independent polar orbit satellite system by 2020. The interesting fact about the Scandinavian Defence Union, which could unite Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Iceland, is that it was supposed to be born immediately after WWII. The Scandinavian four were positive the union was absolutely essential to guard against possible future common threats from the Soviet Union, for example. But the birth of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation superseded these plans.
Today, Denmark and Norway (which were occupied by Nazi Germany during WWll, thus having learnt a bitter lesson) together with Iceland are already members of the NATO alliance, while Finland, which bravely fought both Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in sequence during the WWII and Sweden, which miraculously managed to escape the horrors of war, have so far preferred to stay militarily unengaged. Now Stoltenberg has proposed pooling efforts and resources in all possible military areas, as well as civil co-operation to ensure the effective maritime monitoring of the North Atlantic, and contiguous areas of the Arctic Ocean and Barents Sea (the so-called “Barents Watch”). The report also mentions the necessity of a “Baltic Watch”.
A mutual declaration of solidarity in key areas of joint foreign policy and a common disaster response unit are planned to deal with any disastrous events. For Russia formation of the Nordic Alliance could possibly mean that it will be able to speak directly to the Arctic countries, thus by-passing NATO, for 60 years now wholly controlled by the US, which in turn could mean that purely economic interests would prevail. However, this is only if the US does not enter the new organisation, because, strangely enough, it has Arctic territories too.
Russia to Deploy Special Arctic Force by 2020 - Security Council
Russia will create by 2020 a group of forces to protect its political and economic interests in the Arctic, but does not plan to militarize the region, a spokesman for the Russian Security Council said on Friday. He said the council had recently posted on its website a document, "The fundamentals of Russian state policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and beyond," which outlines the country's strategy in the region, including the deployment of military, border and coastal guard units "to guarantee Russia's military security in diverse military and political circumstances. "However, it does not mean that we are planning to militarize the Arctic. We are focusing on the creation of an effective system of coastal security, the development of arctic border infrastructure, and the presence of military units of an adequate strength," the official said.
According to some sources, the Arctic Group of Forces will be part of the Russian Federal Security Service, whose former chief and current secretary of the Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev, is a strong proponent of an "aggressive" state policy in the Arctic. Another goal of the new strategy is to "optimize the system of the comprehensive monitoring of the situation in the Arctic," including border control at checkpoints in Russia's arctic regions, coastal waters and airspace, the spokesman said. The strategy envisions increased cooperation with neighboring countries in the fight against terrorism, drug-trafficking, illegal immigration and environmental protection. The document also prioritizes the delineation of the Arctic shelf "with respect to Russia's national interests." High Arctic territories, seen as key to huge untapped natural resources, have increasingly been at the center of mounting disputes between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark in recent years as rising temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice.
President Dmitry Medvedev said in September at a Russian Security Council session that the extent of the Russian continental shelf in the Arctic should be defined as soon as possible. Medvedev also said the Arctic shelf is a guarantee of Russia's energy security and that the Arctic should become the resource base for Russia this century, adding that "about 20% of Russia's GDP and 22% of Russian exports are produced" in the area. Russia has undertaken two Arctic expeditions - to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov ridge in the summer of 2007 - to support its territorial claims in the region. Moscow pledged to submit documentary evidence to the UN on the external boundaries of Russia's territorial shelf by 2010. A Russian proposal on creating security structures in the Arctic region will be discussed at a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in April. The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to protect the unique nature of the Arctic region. The intergovernmental forum comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.
Russian Subs 'to Back Arctic Claims'
Russia considers deploying submarines armed with nuclear-capable cruise missiles in a bid to protect resources in the disputed Arctic region. Submarines from Russia's Northern Fleet could be involved in efforts to stake Russia's claim to the polar region, Vice Admiral Oleg Burtsev, deputy head of the Navy General Staff, told RIA Novosti Monday. Northern countries like Russia, the US, and Canada are trying to assert jurisdiction over the Arctic, which is believed to contain huge oil and natural gas reserves. Two Russian civilian mini-submarines descended to the Arctic seabed in 2007 to collect geologic and water samples and drop a titanium canister containing the Russian flag. Burtsev also noted that authorities had not decided yet whether to use robotic underwater vehicles or submarines to stake claims on the Arctic shelf. "In any case, Northern Fleet submarines will be used to either explore or protect Arctic territories adjacent to Russia," he said. The 2007 Russian mission exacerbated the controversy over an area that is believed to contain as much as 25% of the world's undiscovered oil and gas reserves. The dispute has intensified amid growing evidence that global warming is shrinking polar ice, opening up new shipping lanes and resource development possibilities.
More turf wars for Japan after Russia's Medvedev visits disputed Kuril Islands
Islands Row: Japan's envoy called home over Medvedev's Kuril visit:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev visited the Kuril Islands Monday, ruffling Japan, which also claims what it calls the Northern Territories. Japan has recently sparred with China over disputed islands. President Dmitry Medvedev has triggered a huge diplomatic flap with Japan, with whom Russia is still officially at war. He ruffled Japan by staging a visit Monday to the disputed Southern Kuril Islands, four tiny specks of land seized by the Red Army in 1945 and claimed by Japan as its own "Northern Territories." Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan told parliament Monday that Mr. Medvedev's decision to become the first Soviet or Russian leader to set foot on land Japan regards as its own was "extremely regrettable." Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara said the visit "hurts our national sentiment," and called in the Russian ambassador to Tokyo to deliver an official note of protest.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov slammed back, telling journalists that the Japanese reaction to Medvedev's visit was "unacceptable," adding, "this is our land and the Russian president visited Russian land. It's an entirely domestic matter." Moscow insists that the four tiny volcanic islands just off the northern tip of Hokkaido are rightfully Russian territory, endorsed by wartime agreements between the Allies at Yalta and Potsdam. But Tokyo argues that, unlike other post WW II territorial transfers, the legal case with the Kuril Islands remains murky and subject to further negotiation. Most experts say the fate of the Kurils is the single reason Japan and Russia have failed to sign a formal peace treaty in the 65 years since the war ended, and there is no more certain way to stoke national passions in both countries than by raising the issue.
So why did Medvedev, returning to Moscow from a state visit to Vietnam, go several thousand miles out of his way to spend a morning on a barren rock that the Russians call Kunashir Island, the closest of the four to Japan? "Medvedev wants to show the people of Siberia and the far east that he cares about them, and aims to develop these lands," says Yevgeny Bazhanov, vice rector of the Foreign Ministry's Diplomatic Academy in Moscow, which trains Russian diplomats. "But it's also a signal to the Japanese that this is our land, and if they want to discuss that, they need to sit down at the table and talk with us," he says. "There have been no negotiations. The Japanese behave as though they won World War II, and that's not the way to go about it."
The episode could cloud Russian-Japanese relations just as Medvedev prepares to travel to Yokohama in two weeks time for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, where Russia has been hoping to carve out a more prominent role for itself. The four islands, with a population of about 18,000, have been a forgotten backwater at the farthest tip of Russia since the war, known only for their diplomatic notoriety. But they provide Russia access to valuable fisheries, hold significant mineral deposits, and could sit at the heart of major new oil and gas discoveries. "We want people to remain here," Medvedev told islanders. "Development is important. We will definitely be investing money here."
The USSR, which bore the brunt of fighting Nazi Germany, only entered the Pacific war on Aug. 8, 1945, two days after the US had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and barely a week before Japan's surrender. But Soviet forces moved rapidly to roll up territories, including Sakhalin Island and the Kuril Islands, that they believed had been promised them under wartime accords. "There were lots of territorial changes as a result of World War II, in Europe and in Asia," says Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of Russia in Global Affairs, a Moscow-based foreign policy journal. "It's a Pandora's Box that shouldn't be opened. [Giving back the Kuril Islands to Japan] would be taken as a precedent" by other countries whose borders were changed, he says.
But the Soviet Union did appear to admit the Kurils were an exception by agreeing, in 1956, to give two of the islands – Shikotan and the Habomai islets – back to Japan during peace negotiations that were never concluded. Russian experts say that deal is still theoretically on the table. "We've said many times that we're ready to return those two islands in exchange for normalizing relations," says Mr. Bazhanov. "But for Russia it's absolutely not urgent. We own these islands, and it's lawful for us to be there." Though relations between Russia and Japan have been cordial, despite the formal state of war, experts say that major economic cooperation will probably have to await the settling of the territorial dispute.
"Japan is a special country," says Mr. Lukyanov. "They can't do business apart from politics. So we won't see massive economic investment until this issue is dealt with." But polls show that the idea of territorial concessions are extremely unpopular among the Russian public, and today's Kremlin leaders might not be able to follow through on the Soviet-era offer to return two of the disputed islands even if Japan took them up on it. "The only outstanding issue that divides Russia and Japan today is those four microscopic islands," says Bazhanov. "But compromise is always easier to say than to do."
Snap analysis: Russia scolds Japan with disputed island visit
The first visit by a Russian leader to a desolate chain of disputed islands in the Pacific is a clear signal to Japan: follow China's example if you want to do business with the Kremlin. President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Kunashir, one of four disputed islands known as the Southern Kuriles in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, sparked one of the worst diplomatic rows with Japan in decades. But behind the rhetoric, Russia is signaling to Tokyo that if it wants to get any compromise, Japan's rulers must sit down and do business with the Kremlin as China's leaders have so successfully done over the past decade. "This visit is an element of Russia's overall strategy to strengthen its position in Asia: Russia wants to underline that it is an Asia power and that it intends to remain so," said Fyodor Lukyanov, editor of the journal "Russia in Global Affairs." In contrast to the stormy ties with Japan, Russia and China say their relations have never been better as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Russia's paramount leader, pushes to feed China's swiftly growing economy with more Russian oil and gas. Under a 2004 deal approved by Putin, Russia returned to China the Yinlong island and half of Heixiazi island, which are at the confluence of the Amur and Ussuri rivers, more than 70 years after they were seized by the Soviet Union. Soviet troops occupied the islands in 1945 after Kremlin leader Josef Stalin felt he had gained approval at the Yalta Conference from U.S. and British leaders to take them in return for entering the war against Japan. Japan has tried ever since to push Soviet and then Russian leaders to return the islands, though Moscow has repeatedly taken offence at Japan's public diplomacy and what it sees as a failure to develop the wider trade relationship.
The last straw came in October when Japan's foreign minister bluntly warned Medvedev against making the trip ahead of the Kremlin chief's visit to Japan for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in mid-November. Russian officials have in private contrasted the rival fortunes of bilateral ties with Japan and China, now Russia's second largest trading partner after the European Union. Bilateral trade with Japan totaled just $13.6 billion in the first eight months of 2010, less than half Russia's $36 billion trade with China, which in 2009 agreed to lend Russian state controlled companies $25 billion. Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the international affairs committee in Russia's lower house of parliament, said that Japan should understand that any discussion of the future of the Kurile islands depended on good will from Moscow. "Russia has had sovereignty over these islands from the end of World War Two and any discussion of this topic with the Japanese is due only to good will from Russia," he told Reuters. "Such jests as we saw today from Japan do nothing but harm to Russian-Japanese relations and move back the potential for any compromise or resolutions."
Medvedev visits Kuril Islands, vows to improve local living
Medvedev is the first leader from Russia or the former Soviet Union to travel to any of the disputed islands, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. Medvedev is the first leader from Russia or the former Soviet Union to travel to any of the disputed islands, which are called the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia. During his trip, Medvedev visited a family living on the island and talked with local residents over tea. He arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, capital of the Russian Far East province of Sakhalin, earlier in the day on the way back from his trip to Vietnam, where he attended meetings of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and left there aboard a plane for Kunashiri, the RIA Novosti news agency said, quoting an official source.
"We want people to remain here. Development here is important. We will definitely be investing money here," the president was quoted by local media as saying when asked about the island's growing population outflow.
Medvedev promised that the living conditions on the Kuril Islands will someday be like those in central Russia. In addition, the president inspected several construction sites including a geothermal energy station, checked the prices of basic products in a big grocery store, and bought some seafoods from the store. Upon Medvedev's arrival on the islands, Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara on Monday summoned Russian ambassador in Tokyo to lodge a protest against the visit. The Russian envoy, however, insisted that the president's visit is Russia's domestic issue, according to the report. Russian Foreign Ministry on Monday also said it cannot understand the reaction of Japan. The Interfex news agency quoted a ministry source as saying that "Russia's stance on the issue remains in force and there have been no changes."
In September, Medvedev said that the four disputed Pacific islands "are an important region of our country" and he would "visit them in the near future without fail," whereas the Japanese side said Medvedev's possible visit would create "serious obstacles" in bilateral relations. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Saturday that the president "independently determines the routes of travel across the country." Lavrov stressed that the visit would not affect relations between the two countries. Lavrov said he saw "no connection" between Medvedev's trip to Kuril Islands and the relations between the two countries, RIA Novosti news agency reported. The Kremlin has consistently claimed that it would be absurd to discuss with foreign states on the visit of Russian president to Kuril islands.
However, local media also quoted a source from the presidential administration, saying that Moscow should appropriately consider Medvedev's trip, because the president was scheduled to attend the upcoming Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Japan on November 13 to 14. The four disputed Pacific islands, known as the Northern Territories in Japan and the Southern Kurils in Russia, were occupied by Soviet troops in 1945 and are currently under Russian control. Russia and Japan have long been at odds due to the territorial dispute over the islands, which has blocked a peace treaty between the two countries since the end of World War II.
In other developments:
Russian military test-fires 3 ballistic missiles
Russia's military on Thursday successfully test-fired three intercontinental ballistic missiles in one day during training of its strategic forces. The Defense Ministry said the Bryansk nuclear submarine of the navy's Northern Fleet on Thursday launched a Sineva missile from the Barents Sea at a range on the Kamchatka Peninsula. Another nuclear sub, the Georgy Pobedonosets of the Pacific Fleet, test fired an RSM-50 from the Sea of Okhotsk at a testing range in the northwestern Arkhangelsk region. Both types of missiles have a range of about 8,000 kilometers (5,000 miles), according to Russian media reports. The military also fired a land-based Topol missile from the northern Plesetsk launch pad that hit a designated target at Kamchatka's range. The Topol has a range of about 10,500 kilometers (6,500 miles). Also Thursday, Tu-95, Tu-160 and Tu-22M long-range bombers of the Russian air force conducted practice launches of cruise missiles at the Pemboi shooting range in the northern Komi region. Aging Soviet-built missiles continue to form the core of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, and the military has regularly tested them to check their performance.
Russia's arms exports to reach record $10 bln in 2010
Russia's arms exports are expected to hit an all-time high of over $10 billion in 2010, the head of Russia's state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Thursday. In 2009 Russian arms sales were worth $8.5 billion, including $7.4 billion worth via Rosobornexport. "Rosobornexport currently exports several thousand military products, expanding arms sales by $500-$600 million each year," Anatoly Isaykin told a news conference on the 10th anniversary of the company. Rosobornexport's portfolio of export orders is estimated at $40 billion, Isaykin said. Despite constantly expanding arms exports, Russia faces increasing competition on the international arms market from the United States, Germany, France and the United Kingdom as well as Chinese military expansion. Russia exports weaponry to over 100 countries. Its main arms customers are India, Algeria, China, Venezuela, Malaysia and Syria. Vietnam also emerged as a key importer after it signed a deal to buy submarines, aircraft and other military hardware from Russia late last year.
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Russia Presents Vision For Arctic Wealth - December 2010
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