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’North to the Future: Trans-Arctic Sea Routes’

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Under that title, the Russian Geographical Society (RGS), with the support of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, hosted the Second International Arctic Forum at the Northern Federal University in Arkhangelsk this past Sept. 22-23, bringing together 450 scientists, politicians and reporters from Russia, the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, China, Japan and many other countries to discuss the future development of this rich but largely untapped region of our planet.

It was his participation in this conference, which led Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell to issue his call in the Anchorage Daily News on Sept. 28, for the U.S. and Alaska to wake up on the opportunities offered by Arctic development, and both cooperate and compete with Russia in this endeavor, reported yesterday.

This year’s conference, held in the ancient capital of the Russian North, Arkhangelsk, focused on the urgency of creating an Arctic transportation system, including the development of commercial and research navigation, sea and air transportation terminals and corridors, polar aviation, and cargo and passenger trans-polar and cross-polar transportation, with all the safety issues involved. The Russian organizers argued, that without development of a transportation infrastructure, the Arctic cannot be developed, and development of this region is the guarantee of Russia’s prosperity.

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In his address to the conference, Prime Minister Putin emphasized that Russia is determined to turn the Northern Sea Route, "the shortest route between Europe’s largest markets and the Asia-Pacific region," into "an international transport artery that will rival traditional trade lanes in service fees, security and quality. States and private companies who chose the Arctic trade routes will undoubtedly reap economic advantages."

RGS President Sergei Shoigu reported afterwards that specific recommendations were adopted following the discussions. Russia will establish an Academy of Sciences’ Arctic Research Center in the Arkhangelsk Region, "to give a fresh boost to science in the North," and Russia will expand its icebreaker fleet, the government committing to build three nuclear powered and three diesel-electric ice-breakers for use on the Northern Sea Route, with the first of the three nuclear ones to be completed by 2015-2016.

"Territory of Dialogue" points to the new mode of international relations required for mankind’s survival. As Vladimir Kotlyakov, Honorary President of the RSG, put it: "Cooperation is a must in the Arctic region. It has large reserves which should be used, but it is impossible to explore and develop them independently. On the other hand, there are political territorial disputes around the Arctic region, which can be resolves only through negotiations. If they are resolved unilaterally, new conflicts will emerge."