Natalia Loukacheva: Canada and Russia are natural partners in the Arctic
by Natalia Loukacheva
May 8, 2013
Ahead of Canada assuming chairmanship of the multi-national Arctic Council this month, the National Post presents a week-long series where defence experts at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute offer advice on what Ottawa should do with this opportunity.
No two countries in the Arctic region share so much in common as Canada and Russia. We often forget, or take for granted, our commonalities that are manifested in our Arctic identity, our Arctic expertise in technologies and our livelihood, or geographic proximity and the common challenges and opportunities that we face in the far north.
The rapidly receding ice in the Arctic Ocean — by far the smallest among all other world oceans — reminds us that Canada and Russia are neighbours across the North Pole. One possible challenge this neighbourhood may face will be the bilateral delineation of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean over the coming years, and even months. Both counties share a common legal framework for the management of their Arctic waterways, which should aid in the resolution of any issues that emerge over overlapping entitlements to the shelf. Currently the negotiation mechanism for this is envisaged within the Arctic Ocean Coastal States – A5 framework, but it is evident that bilateral negotiations between Canada and Russia will be unavoidable. Once solved, the remaining challenge will disappear. This will be an eye-opening experience for many Canadians who accept the media’s depiction of Putin’s Russia — a foe and the reincarnation of the former U.S.S.R., the source of aggressive military and espionage activity against Canada — which leaves little room for any positive ventures or co-operation between the two countries.
Canada and Russia, by far the largest Arctic nations, bear a shared responsibility for the state of affairs in the region, and must see each other as strategic partners. First, we need to develop, and initiate, more strategic collaborations in military and other security domains, including dealing with other non-Arctic players in the Arctic. To date the conventional capacities of the Arctic zones in Canada and Russia are limited. Growing economic activities, expanding navigation and cross-polar flights, and a rising demand for readiness in search and rescue capacities justify an increase in conventional military capabilities. Bearing in mind Russia’s historic suspicion of NATO, we are wiser to engage Russia, rather than ignore it.
Transportation, both maritime and aeronautic, should be another obvious area of bilateral cooperation. Some initial steps taken in this area are the Churchill-Murmansk “Northern sea-bridge” or discussions between Winnipeg and Krasnoyarsk on the “Northern air bridge,” that would connect North America with Eurasia. But the potential for a bilateral relationship can only be realized if both nations become physically closer through transportation links and build on the mutual advantages available through technological innovation. The two countries could play a leading role in assuring the navigation, communication and safety of the Arctic transportation system. For example, Canada could join Russia’s effort to modernize the Northern Sea Route by offering aid and working to develop the Northwest Passage. These new shipping routes could reshape shipping and have far reaching implications for social and economic development.
The Canada-Russia bilateral relationship could be strengthened through outreach to our Arctic indigenous peoples, who in many cases are facing the same challenges and opportunities — especially with regards to socio-economic developments. The two could also encourage further cooperation in the exploration and extraction of Arctic resources. The Kinross’ success in numerous joint ventures with Russian gold mines is an important success story that could be mirrored by others.
It is time to transform the relationship between Canada and Russia in concert with the ongoing transformation in the Arctic. We need to remove the hurdles that impeded the Canadian-Russian rapprochement and take a new look at each other so as to truly benefit from co-operation between the two Arctic giants.
Dr. Natalia Loukacheva is a fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and the First Visiting Nansen Professor of Arctic Studies (Akureyri, Iceland).