Arctic Tensions Rising

Tensions between Russia and its Arctic neighbor states flared up against last week when President Dmitri Medvedev told his Security Council on Wednesday that the country must be prepared to defend its claim on the region’s natural resources.

With global warming rapidly changing the Arctic landscape, the region might well emerge as a future battleground between the former superpower and nearby interested states, including Canada, Denmark and Norway. The whole Arctic contains about 13 percent of the planet’s untapped oil resources and so much as 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas. Medvedev predicted that conflict will arise over possession of these riches.

“We have seen attempts to limit Russia’s access to the exploration and development of the Arctic mineral resources,” said the Russian president. “That’s absolutely inadmissible from the legal viewpoint and unfair given our nation’s geographical location and history.”

Russia has already made headway at claiming the Arctic, planting its flag beneath the Pole in August 2007 and patrolling the region with bomber planes and warships.

Canada meanwhile is investing dearly in Arctic research and in 2008, it held its largest military exercise ever in the region. Recently, the government announced the installation of a new fleet of Arctic patrol vessels, the construction of a new deepwater port as well as the expansion of the Canadian Rangers.

Responding to Medvedev’s saber rattling, the Canadians announced that they would reassert their sovereignty over the Far North at what is shaping up to be a controversial five country Arctic summit to be hosted in Quebec next week.

“Canada’s sovereignty over lands, islands and waters of the Canadian Arctic is long-standing, well-established and based on historical title,” said a spokeswoman for the Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lawrence Cannon. “This government is dedicated to fulfilling the North’s true potential as a healthy, prosperous and secure region within a strong and sovereign Canada.”

Cannon will host talks between the foreign ministers of the five Arctic coastal states — Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States — ahead of the G8 summit in Gatineau, Quebec later this month. G8 heads of state will meet near Toronto in Ontario’s Muskoka district in June; the same month during which Canada will co-host a G20 summit with South Korea.