Analysis and Commentary
Sergei Donskoi
© RIA Novosti. Vladimir Trefilov

Sergei Donskoi: Russia wants to develop international cooperation in the Arctic

The Arctic Days in Moscow forum opened on November 21 in the Multimedia center of the Rossiya Segodnya International Information Agency. Natural Resources and Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi spoke with Arctic.ru before the event.

A North Pole drifting ice station will be launched next year. Have you decided on the expedition's date, scale and program of research?

A drifting station is an expensive undertaking, even when its program is limited to one season, as it was in 2015.

The Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) has a limited budget, which is why we need to choose our expedition priorities for 2017, including a drifting station. Decisions on the 2017 expeditions will be taken in December.

International research cooperation in the Arctic continues despite political friction, according to Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. Can you explain why the international community is focused on Arctic cooperation?

To begin with, there are no causes for serious conflicts in the Arctic. Over 90 percent of the tapped hydrocarbon resources are located within the boundaries of the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones, where development rights cannot be contested by anyone.

Russia is interested in international cooperation in the Arctic and has always been against bringing policies of confrontation to the region. To highlight this attitude, we have held Arctic Days in Moscow for the past few years, and next year we will resume the international Arctic forum, The Arctic — A Territory of Dialogue, to be attended by representatives of the international Arctic community.  

Russia's top priorities include cooperation in environmental protection and assistance in improving the quality of life for those who live in the Extreme North, including indigenous small ethnic groups.

Next year we will hold the Year of the Environment. Mineral companies have big plans for the Arctic. How else will you protect the Arctic environment, apart from ongoing efforts to clean up the waste left in the Arctic from the Soviet period?

The Natural Resources and Environment Ministry is preparing projects and programs within the strategic development area "Ecology."

We have drafted a passport for the Clean Country project and submitted it to the Presidium of the Presidential Council for Strategic Development and Priority Projects. Its goal is to reduce the share of solid waste in the Arctic and liquidate the biggest accumulated environmental damage objects.

The Clean Country project provides for the implementation of environmental protection measures in 19 regions in 2017-2025. We expect to see the first practical results as soon as 2017 or 2018.

The program includes the liquidation of accumulated environmental damage in the Arctic regions of Russia, such as the Murmansk and Arkhangelsk regions, the Nenets and Yamal-Nenets autonomous areas and the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia).

The Federal Agency for Tourism (Rostourism) believes the Arctic has not yet become an attractive tourist destination due to lack of infrastructure. Do you plan to develop the Arctic infrastructure?

Arctic tourism, and primarily environmental tourism, is a promising area for Russia and especially for its Arctic regions. Expedition cruise tourism is the most popular and environmentally safe kind of travel in the Arctic. A specific feature of Arctic cruise tourism is that it does not require any additional infrastructure. Special eco-trails and onshore sites for watching walrus grounds and bird colonies have been marked in specially protected areas in the Arctic.

Here is the infrastructure we have in place. Guest houses for tourist groups have been built in the key areas along the two- and three-day onshore routes in the Wrangel Island Reserve. There are old buildings in Russian Arctic Natural Park, some of which were built in the Soviet period, which have become tourist attractions. These include the buildings of the Ernst Krenkel Observatory on Heiss Island (Franz Josef Land Archipelago) and weather stations in Tikhaya Bay on Hooker Island (Franz Josef Land Archipelago) and on Cape Zhelaniya (Novaya Zemlya Archipelago). The park also has modern depositories with over a thousand objects that illustrate the life and work of researchers in high-latitude Arctic regions. They will be used for a museum exhibition.

In short, we are working on the Arctic infrastructure and hope that the development of Arctic tourism, which is focused on specially protected areas, will pick up speed in the next few years.

Can you tell us about Russia's application to the UN to extend its share of the Arctic continental shelf? What are the perspectives of the United States, Canada and Denmark in this area?

I'd like to remind you about the chronicle of events. On August 3, 2015, a Russian submission on the continental shelf limits beyond 200 nautical miles from the baselines in the Arctic Ocean was sent to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. A delegation was formed, which I headed, to present, accompany and support the submission in the subcommission that was established for the consideration of the Russian submission.

On February 9, 2016, I presented the Russian submission at a plenary meeting of the 40th Commission session in New York. The Commission approved a subcommission for the consideration of the Russian submission, chaired by Galo Carrera Hurtado.

The Russian submission was presented at the Subcommission during the 41st session of the Commission on August 8-12.

The subcommission will consider our submission between November 28 and December 2, during the 42nd session of the Commission.

The consideration of a submission usually takes two years, which is long enough for the applicant to prepare the necessary additional materials or even conduct additional research, if necessary. In light of the large volume of the Russian submission, its consideration could take three to five years.

At this point, the UN Commission has accepted 77 submissions and has completed its consideration of 22 of them. The Russian submission enjoys priority status, because it is a revised version of a submission that was considered by the UN Commission in 2002.

Regarding submissions in the Arctic basin, the UN Commission has considered and approved a submission by Norway. Denmark's submission, which it sent to the Commission jointly with Greenland in December 2014, will likely be considered in three to five years. Canada sent its submission in 2013, but it later withdrew it and has not yet resubmitted it. The United States is preparing a submission, but it will be able to send it to the Commission only if it joins the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Are there plans for marine protected areas in Russia's Arctic seas?

We are now working to create a New Siberian Islands Nature Reserve, which will be launched in 2017 and will include the adjacent part of the Laptev Sea. We are also considering the idea of a national park on Vaygach Island, which may include part of the Barents and Kara seas.