Arctic issues discussed at the Biden-Putin summit
By Julia Lerner
President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed interest in cooperation and developing relations in the Arctic following their summit in Geneva last week.
Although the United States and Russia enjoy an often icy relationship, the two leaders discussed at length the development and militarization of the Arctic during the historic summit on June 16.
“We agreed to work together there because it is as much in Russia’s interest as it is ours,” Biden said at a press conference. “And how we can ensure that the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict. I attended part of President Putin’s press conference, and he talked about the need for us to have some sort of modus operandi where we take care of making sure that the Arctic is, in fact, a free zone.
In recent years, Russia has increased its military presence in the region, developing the largest icebreaker fleet in the world and conducting major military show-of-force training in the Bering Strait. Last summer, Russian Navy ships caught US fishing vessels by surprise in military exercises involving live missile fire within nautical miles of the US exclusive economic zone.
Putin said concerns about Russian militarization in the region were “absolutely unfounded” during a post-summit press conference. “I told our colleagues that I saw no reason to worry. On the contrary, I am deeply convinced that we can cooperate and must cooperate in this direction. I don’t see any problem [in the region] that we cannot resolve.
But Alaska lawmakers are wary of Putin’s calls for cooperation.
“There is no reason to trust Vladimir Putin’s statement when he says he does not want to militarize the Arctic,” Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan told The Nugget in an interview telephone. “He will say that, but he will continue to strengthen that presence. What matters to him are not the words, but the demonstrations of power.
“Ensuring that the Arctic remains a zone of peace has always been a priority,” Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski told The Nugget. “I remain concerned about the militarization of the Arctic region, which is why I have advocated for stronger dedicated Arctic diplomacy while promoting transparent military-to-government and government-to-government dialogue. Time and time again, the Arctic has been a place where our two nations, Russia and the United States, have been able to find common ground. “
Sullivan says the Port of Nome expansion will be important to Alaska’s infrastructure and military presence in the region.
“We are developing our infrastructure, coast guards and other military capabilities accordingly,” he said. “Finally, finally, our national government recognizes the strategic and military importance of the Arctic. Finally, we are making progress with more military resources and more coast guards and above all, in Nome, progress on infrastructure and the deep-water port.
Sullivan’s concerns, however, extend far beyond the militarization of the region. In an interview with The Nugget, he expressed his concerns about economic, environmental and resource development.
“The northern route through the Arctic is going to see a significant increase in commercial vessel traffic,” Sullivan said. “The Russians said the Arctic is going to be the next Suez Canal, and they want to control it. I don’t think it’s in our best interests that they control all of this. Commercial interests, shorter shipping routes, the massive amount of resources, essential minerals, oil and gas, which are found in the Arctic. It’s interests beyond just national security interests that are really important to Alaska, and I would say they are really important to America. “
In the Bering Strait, local residents are witnessing increasing military interaction between the United States and Russia.
“The Coast Guard has noticed an increase in all vessel traffic in the Arctic region in recent years, to include military, research, navigation, fishing and recreational vessels, as the ice-free season lasts longer and new sea lanes are open, ”explained Coast. Guard Public Affairs Officer, LCDR Scott McCann. “The Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to provide active and committed leadership to institutions contributing to a conflict-free Arctic, for example, the Arctic Council and the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, and by maintaining a relationship of working effectively with our Canadian and Russian neighbors. “
The US Coast Guard plays an important role in the Bering Strait region and is responsible during emergency scenarios, including searches and rescues, and for enforcing fishing laws.
“The Coast Guard is responsible for search and rescue operations in areas under our jurisdiction, and because emergency scenarios can occur anywhere, we have agreements in place with foreign entities to coordinate the search and rescue operations along lines of shared jurisdiction, ”McCann said. “As such, the Coast Guard has an agreement with the Russian Border Guards to provide a coordinated response to an event along our common maritime border, and communications would flow, as is exercised periodically, from command center at the command center. “
Murkowski stressed the importance of working with other Arctic countries to resolve issues facing the community and hopes the Biden administration will work to keep the peace.
In May, the senator attended the ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council and was able to participate in broad discussions on the issues facing the region. “[I] was able to see the nations of the Arctic coming together to focus on issues of mutual interest and concern, ”she told The Nugget. “It is imperative to have the space and capacity of the Arctic nations to work towards common goals and to commit to ensuring that the Arctic region remains a zone of peace. Both President Biden and President Putin have stressed the importance of keeping the Arctic free from conflict – let’s hold them to that. “