22 september 2011

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin takes part in the second International Arctic Forum “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue” in Arkhangelsk

Vladimir Putin

At the second International Arctic Forum “The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue” in Arkhangelsk

“All our plans will be carried out in compliance with the toughest environmental standards. A careful, civilised attitude to nature is a requirement of all development programmes. Active economic development of the Arctic will be beneficial only if we maintain a rational balance between economic interests and environmental protection for the long term, not just for 10, 15 or 20 years.”

Vladimir Putin's speech at the forum:

Ladies and gentlemen, colleagues and esteemed guests,

First of all, I'd like to thank our guests for coming here today to discuss Arctic issues with us. I'm very glad to welcome all participants of this forum, "The Arctic – Territory of Dialogue." This forum was initiated by the Russian Geographical Society (RGS), whose history is bound up with the start of research efforts in the northern latitudes. Established in 1845, the RGS immediately made the Arctic its top priority. Suffice it to recall the Arctic expeditions headed by society members Georgy Sedov, Georgy Brusilov and Vladimir Rusanov, its leading role in the first International Polar Year in 1881, the creation of the world's first network of meteorological polar stations, and the idea for an ice-breaker fleet, which was suggested by another outstanding member of the Russian Geographical Society, Admiral Makarov.

It is great that the society's glorious Arctic traditions live on, as this forum bears out. The first forum held in Moscow exactly a year ago sparked a great deal of interest among all those who care about Arctic problems, exploration of Russia's Far North, its environment, ethnography, historical heritage and the building of trust and partnership in this region. This is exactly why we decided to hold it every year.

The forum is moving increasingly closer to the Arctic. This time we met in Arkhangelsk. It was primarily the forum's agenda – the region's transport infrastructure – that determined the choice of the venue. This is a major foundation for the region's harmonious and stable development and of the cooperation among Arctic states. The city of Arkhangelsk, the ancient capital of the Russian North and the homeland of Arctic trailblazers, is a very befitting and even symbolic place. It is here, on the banks of the Northern Dvina River, that Russia built its fleet, particularly its Arctic fleet. It built the first major dockyards in the 17th century. The Arkhangelsk Region is also the homeland of the great son of the Russian people Mikhail Lomonosov, a scientist and educator who predicted the vast importance of the North for Russia and the rest of civilisation.

Legendary expeditions to study northern regions embarked from this point. The Russian-Swedish expedition in 1878 laid the foundation for the navigation of the Northern Sea Route and became the first joint Arctic project.

The development of the Arctic, primarily its waterways, is very closely linked with Arkhangelsk. The Northern Sea Route (NSR) occupies a special place here. We are planning to turn it into a key commercial route of global importance. I'd like to emphasise that we see its future as an international transport artery capable of competing with traditional sea routes in cost of services, safety and quality.

The shortest way between the biggest markets of Europe and the Asia-Pacific region lies through the Arctic. It is almost one-third shorter than the traditional southern route and presents a great opportunity to reduce shipping costs. By using it, states and private companies will gain tangible economic benefits.

I think that transportation – new sea and air corridors – can become one of the breakthrough projects uniting Arctic nations. It will allow us to make returns on our investments and test universal mechanisms of cooperation.

Returning to our plans, I'd like to recall that we have already carried out major test runs of hydrocarbon shipping along the NSR this year. Transit pilotage of vessels is also gaining momentum. According to tentative estimate, shipping may reach 700,000 tonnes this year, and this is only the beginning.

Russia plans to carry out a series of measures to develop the NSR. At yesterday's government meeting we discussed a draft law designed to regulate all NSR navigation issues. We hope the Duma will pass it before the end of this year.

Developing modern infrastructure along the Northern Sea Route is a major objective. We are launching a comprehensive transport project designed to ensure the dynamic development and exploration of our northern territories, resolve vital economic and social challenges and create new production lines and jobs. We are planning to expand existing ports and build new ones, for instance the Port of Varandei by the Yugorsky Shar Strait and the Sabetta Port on the Yamal Peninsula. The NSR and its major harbours will be integrated with other modes of transport. We are also planning to upgrade river, car and railway routes and communications, northern airfields, airports and polar aviation. We are going to considerably expand our ice-breaker fleet. Today we have 10 ice-breakers. We intend to build another three all-purpose nuclear-powered icebreakers and six diesel-electric ones before 2020. We have allotted 38 billion roubles for this purpose until 2014.

We will continue working to develop systems of communication, navigation and hydrography in the Arctic, primarily with the use of our GLONASS global positioning system. Our experts are already developing a multi-purpose Arctic satellite system that will monitor the environment of the Far North. In addition, specialists are working on a project to create the "North Pole" ice-resistant observatory platform. We will pay special attention to transport safety.

Participants in the Arctic Council ministerial meeting last May signed the first legally binding pan-Arctic document – the Agreement on Cooperation on Aeronautical and Maritime Search and Rescue in the Arctic. Under this agreement, we are building a system of warning, monitoring and response for natural and man-made disasters in our Arctic zone. Under this programme we will build 10 all-purpose rescue centres in the Far North by 2015.

Russia will continue playing an active role in developing and consolidating the international legal foundation for the Arctic, in particular, the agreement on oil pollution prevention and control, which is currently under development. This entirely new field of international cooperation is extremely important.

Climate change, which is gradually increasing the navigation period, and technical progress are paving the way to new, still unexplored areas of the Far North, where economic activity is likely to grow.

Today, we had a video conference with one of such growth point. I'm referring to the Prirazlomnoye deposit on the shelf of the Pechora Sea. We have already installed one of the world's largest hydrocarbon platforms there. Russia is starting to develop the Arctic shelf and opening a new chapter in the history of Arctic exploration. Very soon it will contain pages on the commissioning of the Shtokman deposit in the Barents Sea and the development of resources in the Kara Sea and on the Yamal Peninsula. You know about Rosneft's agreement on long-term strategic cooperation with the American company ExxonMobil, one of the world's leaders in this field. They plan to build a special centre in St Petersburg to provide scientific and technical support for shelf projects, including the study of environmental issues.

All our plans will be carried out in compliance with the toughest environmental standards. A careful, civilised attitude to nature is a requirement of all development programmes. Active economic development of the Arctic will be beneficial only if we maintain a rational balance between economic interests and environmental protection for the long term, not just for 10, 15 or 20 years. I mentioned the Prirazlomnoye deposit, where oil production is expected to last for at least 25 years and, hence, environmental support must be provided for this entire period. The Shtokman deposit is expected to last for 50 years. This is why only long-term environmental monitoring can help us achieve the balance I mentioned. Russia's position is borne out by its participation in the Arctic Council's first collective fund, an instrument of financial support for environmental initiatives, including those aimed at dealing with Arctic problem zones.

For our part, we have already launched a general clean-up operation in the Far North and the Russian Arctic as promised. One of the first projects is clearing Franz Josef Land of barrels with waste oil. We have allocated 2.3 billion roubles from the federal budget to this end until 2015. We will do the same on Wrangel Island and Russian villages on Spitsbergen. We will also conduct a comprehensive analysis of the environment in another seven major Arctic zones.

Implementation of these proposals will not only improve the Arctic environment but also allow us to develop unique technology for reclaiming polluted territories. Let me repeat that environmental protection should become a key theme of our activities in the Far North because for all its severity, the Arctic has the most fragile ecosystem on our planet. The price of a negligent, careless attitude towards the Arctic is very high and the consequences disastrous.

Our goal is to use all our resources to study the current state of the Arctic in detail and to develop effective instruments for reducing already inflicted damage and preventing new risks. I'd like to hope that the current forum will become a venue for discussing and finding solutions to all the problems I have mentioned. Therefore, I propose that we devote the next forum to environmental protection.

In conclusion, I'd like to wish you every success in your work. Thank you for your attention. Thank you very much.

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Vladimir Putin’s closing remarks:

Colleagues and friends,

I want to thank our guests once again for expressing the positions of their countries on the development of the Arctic region as well as their own views on the importance of the Arctic, its prospects and the outlook for cooperation in this region. I have to say that I am very pleased that this discussion platform has been created by the Russian Geographical Society. We will definitely continue supporting everything related to the research and development of the Arctic.

As I said, the climate is changing and new development opportunities are emerging; this is good and, at the same time, cause for some alarm. Obviously, intensive economic activity often leads to sad consequences. But humankind has already accumulated significant experience of working without damaging the environment. If we all act together – actively, carefully, abiding by international standards, listening to expert opinions and finding compromises – I am certain that we will be able to organise our work in the Arctic in such a way that it will contribute to all nations living there and, in fact, to all of humankind. At the same time, we will act so as to preserve the region for future generations, to the extent that humans can preserve anything in its original form; what I mean is that our planet is a living organism, and everything on it is changing.

Again, I want to assure experts dealing with these issues that we will assist you in your work through the Russian Geographical Society, we will create the necessary conditions for your work and will take your results into account in our practical activities. Thank you very much.