Analysis and Commentary
Igor Orlov, Acting Governor of the Arkhangelsk Region

Igor Orlov: The Arctic is an area of development potential for Russia

"We shouldn’t talk about the Arctic as about some remote territory where polar bears walk on permafrost. This is also a territory that has great development potential for Russia, a territory of exploits and creative possibilities."

How do you see the Arkhangelsk Region in the context of Russia's Arctic strategy? What are its potential and prospects?

When we talk about the Arctic today, we shouldn't ignore the past. Russia has long asserted its presence in the Arctic. We discovered the Arctic, explored it and lived in it, overcoming many difficulties.

For many objective reasons the Arkhangelsk Region — the land of Mikhail Lomonosov, the land of industrial development for Peter the Great — has become the place from which the first expeditions traveled to the Arctic. Many cultural, research and educational studies started from here.

Most of the first expeditions to Novaya Zemlya, Franz Joseph Land and other high-altitude Arctic destinations started in the Arkhangelsk Region. Vasily Chichagov, Georgy Sedov and Ivan Papanin are local names. They explored the Arctic for Russia and we are still utilizing the results of their work.

This good historical background has led to the current logistics. The best way to get to the Arctic today is via Arkhangelsk. The best air route is also through the Arkhangelsk Region in terms of time, communications, the number of airports and their infrastructure. Communications are also very good. Even innovations associated with broadband access — via a communicating device rather than a satellite — have been put into practice here because it is impossible to establish cell stations everywhere to get modern service. We understand this and we know how to overcome all the difficulties and achieve this in rigorous Arctic conditions.

This background was created for us by the residents of the Arkhangelsk Region.  And this is why we have a unique package of structures that are well adapted to the specific features of the Arctic.

Above all, this includes the scientific base: nine research institutes that deal with a broad range of Arctic issues. I'm referring not only to the environment and security but also to agriculture, education, medicine, ship-building and oil and gas production. All this rests not only on well-grounded scientific conclusions but on the practice of everyday life. People go on expeditions to test their knowledge and experience in the Arctic.

Secondly, we have a powerful educational center: North (Arctic) Federal University. When I say "we" I mean Russia rather than the Arkhangelsk Region. Russia has this university that, as reflected in its name, structure and facilities, was set the task of dealing with a broad range of Arctic problems, such as special training of teachers, doctors and other specialists for remote territories.

Finally, the Arkhangelsk Region is a well-established industrial center and has several of Russia's largest sea ports. Severodvinsk, Russia's biggest ship-building center, has a unique spaceport for launching high-altitude space ships. There is a multi-purpose nuclear testing ground on Novaya Zemlya. Franz Jozeph Land, Russia's northernmost territory, has a great potential as well. No doubt, this combination of technological opportunities is also helping us to develop the Arctic from such difficult land as the Arkhangelsk Region.

How is it possible to reach a northern territory quickly without great financial and logistical expenditures? We can take an hour flight to the Mezensky District, with its permafrost, special climate and unique biodiversity. It is also part of the Arkhangelsk Region.

We should never forget about important historical traditions. On the one hand, we have a holy place — Solovki — and on the other, we have a tradition of making proper felt boots and the right clothes that allow people to survive without synthetics and special heating systems. This tradition has also been established here. As for the problems of northern national minorities, their life and traditions have been thoroughly studied here, as they live nearby.

There is one more important aspect. We should speak about the Arctic not like some remote territory where polar bears walk on permafrost, but as a land of development potential for Russia, a land of exploits and creative possibilities.

We should encourage the younger generation to visit the Arctic and learn about the people who live there. It is possible to promote it with fairy tales by Boris Shergin and Stepan Pisakhov (Shergin is a writer of folklore born in Arkhangelsk; Pisakhov is a fairy tale writer). It is very important to introduce people to the Arctic with their books.

The Arkhangelsk Region has everything it needs to make the Arctic understandable and accessible for us. We can overcome any challenges that we may face on this rough land.

An association of Arctic municipalities has been established in the Arkhangelsk Region. Could you speak about this initiative in more detail?

 At present, not all regions are completely in the Arctic zone. In the Arkhangelsk Region, too, only a few municipalities belong to the Arctic zone.

Arctic issues are addressed on the state level by a vast array of agencies. Of course, governors can meet among themselves or with ministers or senior officials and talk, but how deeply will they be able to understand the problems faced by municipal authorities in the Arctic territories?

It became clear through conversations with a number of our colleagues from municipalities that there are still many problems on the local level related to heating, fresh water supplies and road and housing construction. For example, how are housing costs calculated for state programs in the Arctic? It is believed that the price of one square meter in Central Russia and in the Arctic should be the same. Obviously, this issue, among many others, requires a special approach and demands discussion at platforms that are closer to the topic of the Arctic.

A council of heads of Arctic regions was formed under the State Commission for the Arctic, which includes all governors of Arctic territories, but nothing like this was done for municipalities. This brought about the idea of organizing the Association of Arctic Municipalities, which, incidentally, is rapidly developing. My governor colleagues also encounter similar problems each day on the municipal level, so naturally, they became interested in this platform. In February, the association was officially registered. I was very pleased when Chairman of the State Commission for Arctic Development Dmitry Rogozin endorsed this idea. He immediately became involved, understanding that this is a different territory, with a different system of relations and different goals.

The association will exist and develop, and I have no doubt that it will help resolve a great number of problems.

At the first meeting of the State Commission for Arctic Development, you spoke about the creation of a federal center for comprehensive Arctic studies in the Arkhangelsk Region. Do you see your region as the only possible research center for Arctic studies?

An institution called "The Center for Comprehensive Arctic Studies" could be located anywhere: in Salekhard, Kamchatka, Chukotka, or Murmansk. However, what are our objectives? Do we want to establish another bureaucratic office? Or do we what to see this integration center produce the maximum effect?

I started off with the fact that the scientific, educational and technological indicators in the Arkhangelsk Region are objectively higher than in other Arctic territories. The Arctic industry in the Arkhangelsk Region has been developing for centuries, and everything here has always been at the highest level, be it hunting, agriculture, shipbuilding, air transport, marine logistics and so on. So when we propose establishing this center in Arkhangelsk, our reasoning is well-founded.

Generally, this idea was raised at an extended meeting of the Arctic Council that took place here more than a year ago. We discussed it with academicians and in the final analysis the initiative belongs to our fellow resident Nikolai Lavyorov, a member of the Presidium of the Russian Academy of Sciences. He was the one who proposed establishing an integrated scientific center in the Arkhangelsk Region.

We would not duplicate or replace any institute or any area of research, be it the Komi Scientific Centre or the Kola Research Center or the Far Eastern Center insofar as their Arctic studies are concerned. Their scientific schools should work and develop. However, this knowledge about the Arctic should be aggregated and put into practice somewhere. 

So when we talk about this kind of research centre we say that it should be an integrator of knowledge. It should become a place for all those who are interested in their scientific discoveries being put into practice, a place that receives greater attention from the Academy of Sciences and the federal government.

We took our idea to the Federal Agency for Scientific Organizations (FASO), and last year, all Arctic researchers met in Arkhangelsk under the aegis of FASO. Over the course of two days, they discussed the idea in a substantive and thorough manner, as befits scientists, and came to the conclusion that they need such a center, and even outlined a plan of action for putting it in place.

I said during the discussion that the new center would not simply aggregate knowledge or scientific data but would have the opportunity to use this knowledge in the education process through the Northern (Arctic) Federal University, and to get young people involved in developing, expanding and acting on this knowledge. Furthermore, it would have its own manufacturing infrastructure in the form of major technological centers in the Arkhangelsk Region, be it transport, logistics, shipbuilding, space research or Arctic medicine, specifically at Northern State Medical University. We will offer all of this to the whole country.

Will research centers from other regions be able to join the Arkhangelsk project? 

All of the country's research centers will be able to cooperate with us through the Russian Academy of Sciences. They will know that they can offer their research projects — for example, regarding metals that can be used in high latitudes or wheat farming in the North or raising special breeds of cattle — for practical implementation. To reiterate, all Academy of Sciences' affiliates will work as they have until now. However, it is proposed that a center be established here for the concentration of knowledge to be subsequently used in the national economy.

We will see how this will work. If we do not try, if we do not make an effort, if we do not propose [new ideas], we will simply lag behind.

There is a great number of unique natural areas in the Arkhangelsk Region, in particular the Russian Arctic Park. What is your vision of the region's potential for the development of Arctic tourism? And should it be promoted?

I would like to stress that a national park is, above all, a territory of science, designed for the preservation and augmentation of knowledge in the Arctic, not a purely tourist attraction. In addition to Russian Arctic, we have another national park, Onezhskoye Pomorye, which also has great potential for research.

Regarding tourism, it is already developing and will continue to develop regardless of whether we are involved in this. There are already dog-sled, snowmobile, off-road car and ski tours and icebreaker cruises to the Arctic and to Solovki. All of this already exists and demand is so great that sometimes this creates certain difficulties, in terms of time and organization. For example, there is a tour devoted to the appearance of Greenland walrus calves. It is next to impossible to get there because there are huge numbers of people who want to see the walrus young but this can only be done within the first 10 days.

We believe that Arctic tourism, first, should be more civilized and second, that it should bring certain dividends to the region. This is why we have created a number of tourist clusters, and after securing approval from the expert board of the Russian Federal Agency for Tourism, we are developing them, among other things, with private investment.