Russia in the Arctic (between realpolitik and mythologies) explained by Civiltà Cattolica

The Jesuit Vladimir Pachkov addresses the increasingly relevant theme of the development of the Arctic and of Russian policy in this regard, an approach that straddles “realpolitik and mythology of the north”, as evidenced by the title of the forthcoming article in the issue of La Civiltà Cattolica

In the number of Catholic civilization that the Jesuit will come out next Saturday Vladimir Pachkov deals with the increasingly relevant issue of the development of the Arctic and of Russian policy in this regard, an approach that straddles “realpolitik and northern mythology”, as is highlighted right from the title of the article. The speech is relevant for two reasons accessible to all: we are talking about the economic potential of the Arctic, on which Europeans, Russians and North Americans insist – which will be discussed in detail later but which is known for hypotheses of enormous resources and for the trade that climate change could open, profoundly changing the routes of the world. Here then is that understanding what we are talking about is as important as the conclusions reached by the author. But let’s proceed in order.

The text analyzes the Russian perspectives, we must understand well what we are talking about given that the Arctic is at the center of relevant projects and innovations and certainly destined to be known again. The article thus starts from Russian history and reconstructs their colonization of the north, considering that “most of the Russian Arctic is located in northern Siberia, which was colonized by Russia only starting from the seventeenth century”.

The historical reconstruction brings us to knowledge of how important the arctic was in the Stalin era. Indeed, we learn that “Stalin himself considered the ‘polar literature’, which propagated the myth of the ‘Red North’, one of the key elements of Soviet propaganda. The Arctic was presented as a blank slate upon which socialism could be built. It and all the successes achieved there constituted a model of patriotism, technological progress and industrial possibilities of the socialist state. But, with Stalin’s death, the era of the «Red Arctic» came to an end. Central government interest was diverted to other projects; some Gulags were dissolved and an attempt was made to attract better-paid workforce to the north. Although the myth of the «Red Arctic» was never revived – not least because the ‘red’ USSR itself ended – the memory of the Soviet Union’s conquests in the north was revived in the 2000s, when the government of Russia began to pay special attention to that region”.

So realpolitik and the mythology of the north are nothing new, but they fit into a different picture: above all the economic data have changed, given that the idea that the Arctic is very rich in underground resources is widespread, although not certain. A discourse that is tackled with accuracy, without forgetting the mythologies, which still weigh. In this passage of the article we find the terms of the two questions for today: “at the beginning of the 2000s the Arctic regained its economic and strategic importance for Russia, and only then did it once again become one of the key in that region. In reality, this return was driven by sheer economic necessity: 98% of all diamonds, 90% of oil and gas, nickel, cobalt and platinum, 60% of copper and 24% of gold in Russia they are produced north of the Polar Circle, and all this represents 11% of Russia’s GDP. This relaunch was also favored by the ideological elaboration of a new geopolitical reality in which Russia, unlike the old Russian Empire and the USSR, after the loss of vast areas to the west and south, has returned to being a country almost exclusively northern. Even more relevant is the fact that in the narrative of both the main political leaders of the government and the ideologues of the opposition nationalist movements, the key role of the Arctic has begun to be emphasized in the political, economic and even cultural life of Russia. We had to engage in the Arctic, because Russia is the Arctic”.

The starting point of the reflection cannot fail to take into account the claims of the United States Geological Institute, according to which 20% of the world’s oil and gas resources are found in the Arctic. According to the Russian energy ministry there would be double the oil available in Saudi Arabia. Vladimir Pachkov warns us that these are hypotheses, not certainties, thus recalling the rumors that the competition for the Arctic would chase resources that would not exist. In fact, Russia is in the Arctic with Europeans and North Americans, in articles the United States and Canada and their approach, in addition to resources, looks “to using the Arctic as a demonstration of great power, both in an attempt to present an alternative civilization to ‘West, and to secure the largest possible share of territory for Russia’.

So some see the Arctic as an opportunity to regain a great power status after the sorrows of the past, others “instead see the Arctic in a more mystical way, as an element in the construction of the identity of the Russian Federation and in the fulfillment of its mission. Both believe that the Arctic represents Russia’s last chance and an opportunity to take revenge on history, which took away her Empire”.

The ideologue could not be missing Alexander Dugin in this presentation, For him, “the domination of the north makes mythical sense and is also a prerequisite for the fulfillment of Russia’s mission in the world. It’s not just about ideas. The Eurasian youth movement, ideologically inspired by Dugin, has organized demonstrations in support of Russian territorial claims in the Arctic. The leader of this movement, Aleksandr Bogdanov, says that the Arctic is not only important for its economic aspect, but it is a land of heroism, of overcoming difficulties, a symbol of great value for the country”. The communists could not be missing either, and the article quotes their ideologist, Alexander Prokhanov, who said in this regard: “The Russian people are struggling to say goodbye to their eastern and southern conscience, and replace it with a northern conscience. Now everything in Russia is connected to the Arctic: from security to clean water to energy sources. Now, as in the past, the Arctic is becoming an object of desire and concern. It is the area that has no solution of continuity between Russia and the rest of the world”.

In short, the Arctic as well as material wealth is also spiritual wealth for all of them, almost as if the Arctic becomes the possible place of rediscovered unity, obviously in the name of the Russian mission.

And Putin? At the Arctic Forum in September 2010, Putin (then prime minister) said: “While we care for the balanced development of Russia’s north, we work at the same time to strengthen our ties with neighbors in our common Arctic home. We think it is very important to consider the Arctic as an area of ​​peace and cooperation. Our belief is that the Arctic should be a platform for cooperation in the fields of the economy, security, science, education and preservation of the cultural heritage of the north.” The article explains very well how civilizing competition with the West can take shape, and competition does not mean opposition, but working together to solve common problems. In September 2010, the first international forum was held in Moscow, entitled, Arctic, a region of dialogue”.

Here we are at the author’s conclusions: “Russia is a member of the various international institutions in the region, in particular of the Arctic Council. Despite international competition, collaboration between scientists will continue in the future. The Arctic, despite all the contradictions and differences of interests and opinions, could be an opportunity for cooperation between Russia and Western countries. Certainly for the Russian Federation, there are more differences of opinion with Canada and the United States – for example, with Canada on the “Northwest Passage” and with the United States on the division of the Barents Sea – than with the of Northern Europe. With these countries it could develop bilateral projects in the Arctic. For Russia, this northward orientation is an important dimension of relations with Europe in general. For Europe, the ability to cooperate with Russia in this region can be a valid model also for other areas and regions where, unfortunately, insurmountable contrasts have been registered so far”.

Russia in the Arctic (between realpolitik and mythologies) explained by Civiltà Cattolica –