Market News

 May 13, 2009
Russian report suggests conflict over Arctic possible

 A new Russian government security report that predicts possible military conflict over energy resources --- including Arctic oil --- is another "wake-up call" for Canada, says one of the country's top analysts on polar geopolitics.

"In a competition for resources, problems that involve the use of military force cannot be excluded that would destroy the balance of forces close to the borders of the Russian Federation and her allies," states the document, which forecasts security threats up to 2020 and named the petroleum-rich Arctic --- where seabed boundaries are now being determined under the rules of a UN treaty --- as a potential conflict zone.

The national security strategy released Wednesday surveyed a range of possible threats facing Russia along its Asian, European and Arctic frontiers, according to various news reports from Moscow.

Requests to the Russian Embassy in Ottawa for a copy of the security report and comments on its implications for Canada were not immediately returned.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said Canadian officials would not comment until receiving the report.

University of Calgary political scientist Rob Huebert --- who said the Russian outlook released Wednesday appears to be a "realistic" view of possible conflicts --- insisted that it should spur Canada's efforts to beef up Arctic defences while continuing to pursue peaceful outcomes on boundaries, shipping rules and resources in the disputed polar realm.

"The Russians have been talking very co-operatively, but they have been backing it up with an increasingly strong military set of actions," said Huebert, associate director of the university's Centre for Military and Strategic Studies.

"You mix uncertain boundaries with major powers and massive amounts of oil and gas, and you always get difficult international circumstances," he added. "I think the Russians have made that calculation."

Over the past three years, Russia has been sending conflicting signals to Canada and other polar nations about its planned approach to resolving potential Arctic conflicts, said Huebert.

A Russian submersible's planting of a flag on the North Pole sea floor in August 2007 sparked an international war of words over Arctic sovereignty, with Defence Minister Peter MacKay --- then Canada's foreign minister --- decrying the Russian act as a throwback to "15th-century" territorial imperialism.

Tensions appeared to flare again in late February when MacKay --- nine days after two Russian aircraft ventured close to Canadian airspace in the Arctic --- described in a news conference how Canadian fighter planes had raced northward to "send a strong signal" to the Russian pilots that "they should back off and stay out of our airspace."

But Russia's defence minister later objected to what he called MacKay's "bizarre" criticism of a "routine" test flight, and insisted his country is committed to co-operative, peaceful approach to problem-solving in the Arctic.

A Feb. 20 meeting in Moscow between top Canadian and Russian officials --- revealed earlier this week by Canwest News Service --- does appear to show significant co-operation between the two countries on Arctic issues.

The two sides appeared to be in agreement about Canada's claim to jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage, and even discussed a possible joint Russian-Canadian-Danish submission to the UN to determine Arctic sea floor boundaries.

But Wednesday's security report suggests Russia is also bracing for more pointed conflict in the Arctic and elsewhere as it strives to secure its position as a global energy superpower.

"The attention of international politics in the long-term perspective will be concentrated on the acquisition of energy resources," the paper said.

It said regions where such a competition for resources could arise included the Middle East, the Barents Sea, the Arctic, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia.

The strategy document was approved by President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday and published on Wednesday by the Russian Security Council, which includes Russia's top politicians and intelligence chiefs and is chaired by Medvedev.

"I see a Russia that is not necessarily getting aggressive," said Huebert, "but is getting increasingly assertive about controlling what it sees as the future of its long-term strength."