Prime Minister Vladimir Putin addresses the international forum "The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue"
23 september 2010
In his speech, Mr Putin noted that the Arctic highlighted all the potential risks linked with anthropogenic impact on the environment. Prime Minister Putin pledged that not a single project in the Russian Arctic would be implemented without due consideration for the most stringent environmental requirements.
Speaking about development priorities, Prime Minister Putin emphasized the need to create top-quality, comfortable living conditions for local people and the pursuit of a frugal attitude towards the indigenous and small Arctic nations' socio-economic infrastructure and traditions. Mr Putin also prioritised support for new economic-growth points and incentives for large-scale domestic and foreign investment in the region.
Vladimir Putin's speech at the forum:
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen and colleagues,
First of all, I would like to thank all the delegates of the International Arctic Forum for their support of the initiative of the Russian Geographical Society. To be honest, we did not expect such attention and interest on the part of our partners. You willingly responded to our proposal to discuss important issues of Arctic's development. I would like to remind you that we had planned to meet in Moscow this April. But the eruption of the Icelandic volcano with its hard-to-pronounce name, which I will not even try to pronounce, changed our plans.
At that time, humankind was once again reminded of its dependence on nature. We reassessed many global problems which have already become proverbs or bywords. I know that each of you felt the extent of our dependence on nature, the vastness of it and the fact that humankind was reminded of its humble place despite its technical progress when this eruption took place.
The Arctic with its unique nature and fragile ecosystem serves as a graphic indicator of the planet's health, highlighting the potential risks linked with anthropogenic impact on the environment. We still need to reach a consensus on a number of remaining issues, and those countries, including the Russian Federation, which have gained substantial experience in the Arctic, assume a special responsibility for this.
Russian seafarers entered the Arctic Ocean's seas in the eleventh century. New routes were charted and new research conducted with every passing century.
Vast Russian territories are located in the Arctic. To be honest, Russia is a northern country. Seventy percent of its territory is located in northern latitudes. History and geography posed the challenge of developing these territories before our people. Russia which played a leading role in charting the Northern Sea Route also founded the Arctic icebreaker fleet, polar aviation and created an entire network of stationary and drifting stations in the Arctic. And, finally, this country gained the unique experience of building major cities and industrial facilities above the Arctic Circle. Quite possibly, this could not always be correct or justified from an environmental or even an economic standpoint.
Surely, not all aspects of this experience can be called equivocal. An openly consumerist attitude toward the Arctic had sometimes prevailed. We remember these lessons and take them into consideration while drafting long-term plans for the development of the Russian Arctic.
I would like to explain our top priorities. This implies the creation of top-quality, comfortable living conditions for local people and the pursuit of a frugal attitude towards the indigenous and small Arctic nations' socio-economic infrastructure and traditions. We must pay attention to their unique nature, while expanding the social sector, the education and healthcare system and while creating the communications network.
Support for new economic-growth points and incentives for large-scale domestic and foreign investment is the second priority. At the same time, I would like to point out that not a single industrial project in the Russian Arctic will be implemented without due consideration for the most stringent environmental requirements. This is the principled stance of the Russian Government, and we will be guided by it, while developing the Yamal Peninsula, at the Shtokman deposit in the Barents Sea, in the northern sector of the Krasnoyarsk Territory, in Yakutia and at hundreds of other production and infrastructure facilities being established by the state or the business community.
Analysts predict that the Arctic could become a major source of energy resources and a key global transport hub in the next 50 years. But the price of Arctic development is much higher than those billions of barrels of crude oil or natural gas that can be mined by us, and which are so actively discussed in various countries. An irresponsible attitude towards the Arctic could spell global problems, rather than global advantages, in the near future. Consequently, all Arctic states are now beginning to prioritise the large-scale introduction of resource-saving, ‘smart' and breakthrough technology capable of working in harmony with Nature.
Russia would like to propose an active exchange of ideas, innovations and practical experience. This will help us find the optimal technological and engineering solutions for the Arctic region together.
Substantial investment in the scientific and nature-conservation infrastructure is the third priority.
We are planning to do a serious spring-cleaning of our Arctic territories in the most direct sense of the word. I mean cleaning up the garbage that have been accumulating for decades around the cities, villages, mineral deposits, military bases, seaports, airfields, on the tundra, on the islands and in the Arctic Ocean.
At the same time, the number of national parks and reserves will grow. Last year we opened the Russian Arctic, a new national park on Novaya Zemlya archipelago. Yesterday one of our guests, the ruling Prince of Monaco, asked me about its territory. So now I can tell you: its area is over 1.5 million hectares, probably comparable to the Principality of Monaco. We are working jointly with our American colleagues to establish Beringia Park in Chukotka and Alaska.
Russia is planning to revive and build up its research presence in the Arctic, supporting fundamental studies, including those carried out by international teams of scientists and experts. Just recently this year, I visited such a place where Russian and German specialists are working. I must say that their love for science surprised me: they are living in very trying conditions, to put it mildly, but they don't even seem to notice. Of course, we will help them. They are jointly conducting some very important and interesting work.
No doubt, we are going to take advantage of the potential of Russia's best universities that have prominent scientific schools and long traditions of successful Arctic research.
Russia has initiated an International Polar Decade to encourage cooperation on research in the Arctic. This project could focus on studies of global climate change and other issues that are linked to the Arctic in one way or another.
It is difficult to survive in the Arctic when you are alone; it is a well-known time-tested fact. Arctic nature itself makes individuals, groups of people and entire countries dependent on each other.
In 2008, Russia adopted the principles of its national policy on the Arctic. I want to emphasize that this document clearly and openly outlines our national interests. While we are taking care of a steady and balanced development of the Russian North, we are working to strengthen our ties with our neighbours in our common Arctic home. And we think that preserving the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation is of the utmost importance. It is our conviction that the Arctic area should serve as a platform for uniting forces for genuine partnership in the economy, security, science, education and the preservation of the North's cultural heritage. It is gratifying that our partners share this attitude. This is clearly demonstrated by the operation of key international Arctic institutions, such as the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. Russia recently finished its two-year chairmanship of that organisation. We tried to use that time as productively as possible and implemented all the plans we had declared.
We see that the Arctic Council also has the potential for integration. In fact, this is the core organisation engaged in environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic.
We are grateful to our colleagues for the constructive support of Russian initiatives, which are being implemented within the council's framework. First of all, I am speaking about the idea of entering into the first pan-Arctic treaty on air and sea search and rescue. Work on this document has reached its practical stage. It is an embodiment of a constructive policy of being good neighbours in the Arctic.
Unfortunately, we also have to face some different facts, including future predictions of a struggle over the Arctic. We are closely following the situation in the region and making our own knowledgeable forecasts. And we can clearly see that most of such frightening scenarios for the Arctic lack real grounds and are designed to make the countries of this region quarrel and clash and then try to gain some profit, or fish in troubled waters, as we say.
Indeed, the Arctic is at the juncture of serious geopolitical and economic interests. However, I have got no doubts at all that the existing issues in the Arctic, including those related to the continental shelf, can be resolved in a spirit of partnership through negotiations and on the basis of existing international law.
As an example I want to mention the recently signed Russian-Norwegian treaty on the delimitation of maritime area and cooperation in the Barents Sea and the Arctic Ocean. The negotiations were exhausting. They went on for decades and sometimes reached deadlocks. However, we finally found a way out, the treaty was concluded; I believe that it is a very good example of the possibility of finding a compromise acceptable for all parties. In the given case both parties really wanted to produce a result and were making steps to meet each other halfway.
The Arctic is a special region that requires responsible and balanced solutions. And mutual trust, of course. Humanitarian cooperation plays a large role here. Together, we need to search for new forms of interaction and expand international contacts of cultural and creative elites, students, non-governmental organisations, national museums and libraries.
The Russian Geographical Society jointly with the Russian State Library and the Presidential Library are working on the Arctic Electronic Memory project. It was devised as an accessible information resource capable of pooling together knowledge about the history of the North, its ethnographic legacy and modern life there. We are expecting that all participants in the Arctic community will join this initiative.
In addition, I would like to point out the concerted efforts of our Northern regions to promote the image of the Arctic. In this context, Murmansk, the capital of the Russian Arctic, successfully hosted the Northern Lights International Film Festival this past May. In November, Moscow (with a support of Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Area) will be the venue of the Arctic International Documentary Film Festival.
All these and many other projects are open for our neighbours, friends and partners.
In this hall we see specialists and experts from many countries of the world, who fully understand the significance of the Arctic in the development of modern civilization and regard it as a place for cooperation and dialogue.
Your versatile, balanced approaches and proposed solutions to problems may become a basis for the interaction between Arctic states in the new era of development of the Far North. Eventually, our ability to cooperate and conduct a constructive dialogue, and our readiness to search for common answers to the challenges we are facing will determine what the Arctic will be like.
Again, thank you all for being involved in the forum. I wish you success in our joint work. Thank you!
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Vladimir Putin's closing remarks:
I'd like to thank all of our respected guests once again, including the president of Iceland, which goes without saying because the Icelandic president is the leader of a northern country and so it makes sense that he is paying so much attention to the issues connected with the Arctic. But we are especially pleased that he is actively cooperating with Russian partners, which is why I'd like to give him special thanks.
As for the Prince of Monaco, he is not just a traveller himself but is carrying on his family's traditions. His great-grandfather was a famous explorer of the North.
The president of Iceland in his very compelling and emotional speech addressed the most important things. He said that all the regions of the world are closely interacting in their studies of the Arctic. There are experts in the audience, and my words will not be news to them, but some things that have been recently made public may come as a surprise to those of us who only read about climate change and the problems of the Arctic and Antarctica in passing.
Yesterday I had a long conversation with the Prince of Monaco, who told me that recent studies have pointed to the presence of permafrost in Monaco. I recently visited the estuary of the Lena River, the place where it flows into the Arctic Ocean. It's the second largest estuary in the world, 290 km wide, and I can assure you that it is really impressive. Well, today it is a permafrost zone, but experts have proved that in the past, thousands of years ago, it was a region of tropical seas.
This means that the climate is changing. But why is it changing? Is it changing because of human influence or because of unavoidable changes in the planet's development that humankind cannot prevent? And if this is unavoidable but human activity is also influencing the climate, what is the scale of this influence? Is it really disastrous for the planet? I don't want to say that we should give up our efforts to combat global warming, but maybe it is happening regardless of our influence? It is most likely so. But the question is, how are we influencing the speed of this process?
This brings us to practical questions, such as, can alternative energy sources save us? Is the use of hydrocarbons so pernicious? What should we do all together to slow down this process, and can we do anything at all?
I have always supported the programmes aimed at reducing the negative influence of human activity on climate and the environment. I will continue to support, together with the Russian government and other authorities, every effort to protect the environment.
But still, our work should be based on a realistic view of the situation, and we should rely on expert opinion. We have been paying so much attention to supporting the experts who are working in this sphere precisely so we can determine Russia's practical policy that will be based on facts and objective research data, rather than on newspaper articles, however much we may respect them.
Since there are many experts here who are working toward this end, I'd like to wish them success in resolving the issues which we have gathered here today to discuss.
Thank you very much.
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During the international forum The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Russian Geographical Society, presented Prince Albert II of Monaco with a certificate of membership of the Board of Trustees, and he presented Icelandic President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson with the Russian Geographical Society's Certificate of Merit for his personal contribution to Northern research.