Guess which country, despite having a big chunk of Arctic Ocean beachfront, isn't really doing much of anything about it but making plans to make a plan? That's right, Team USA is mostly sitting this out, so far. US policy seems to be sort of at the talking about what to talk about stage.
Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, has a very good idea of what Russia should be doing about the warming Arctic: He intends to exploit the calamity of Arctic warming by turning his country's formerly icebound Arctic coastline it into a state-run enterprise ruble machine and using his Navy to make the Arctic Ocean into a Russian lake.
As global sea lanes became established after the 16th Century, mariners figured that the shorter distance by sea between Europe and Asia would be either the Northwest Passage, through the Canadian Arctic, or the Northern Route, aka Northeast Passage, along the North coast of Russia. The problem was the Arctic ice. Until the cascading effects of anthropogenic climate change in the Arctic started taking hold in earnest, the blue line on that map above was but a shipping magnate's dream.
The blue line is about 8,500 miles. The red line is about 13,000. That is a difference, every single one way voyage, of 13 days of additional time at sea for crew, ship, cargo and blowing carbon out the stacks. Russian leader Vladimir Putin has big ideas and bold plans for what to do about the emergence of the blue line route as an alternative route for commerce between Europe and Asia.
Russia is intent on transforming its Arctic coastline into a commercially viable alternative to the Suez Canal. In 2011, President Vladimir Putin said: “I want to stress the importance of the Northern Sea Route as an international transport artery that will rival traditional trade lanes in service fees, security and quality.”Earlier this month, Russia announced plans to expand its military presence in Northern waters as ten new bases are being established to support sea commerce and Naval fleets.
Russia uses icebreakers to escort commercial vessels, and charges fees for the service. In 2007, it launched the Fifty Years of Victory, a nuclear-powered behemoth able to break 2.5 metres of ice at speed.
Russia plans to expand its military presence in the Arctic, officials said Monday. According to Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and the current head of the Security Council, Russia is going to create a number of “dual use” facilities in the Arctic, facilities that will be expected to host commercial craft as well as vessels of both the Northern Fleet and the FSB’s border service.The Russians and the United States have operated their nuclear submarines beneath the Arctic ice for a couple of generations. But it is the Russian Navy which looks to be poised to make the surface of the coming ice free Arctic Ocean into a Russian lake. For now, Canadian plans for the region seem to have faltered.
Imagine a sea train of cargo ships, perhaps as much as 1/3 of the containerized shipping between Europe and China and Japan. Sailing right past that spot Sarah Palin would have had to build her house to see Russia and magically become a foreign policy expert. Russia is making money off of every ton of that shipping. USA? Nada.
U.S. carbon extravagance is about to enrich, extravagantly, I venture, our Cold War Russian adversary and very likely empower that country's leaders on the World stage. All of that is actually perfectly OK with me. It's their coastline. Russia has a plan and is willing to invest in it. Capitalists, at least, should applaud that. If people of the region become more prosperous and the harshness of their weather abates, that isn't entirely a terrible thing, at least not from the point of view of those people.
But Russians have a terrible human rights record and their homophobia leaves them in a terrible light internationally. I wonder how long it will take before Americans in number once again behave with fear and distrust of the Russians? If it happens, I hope it's funny.