Russia re-embraces a cold war — in the North – by Paul Watson (Toronto Star – December 17, 2011)

The Toronto Star, has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

MURMANSK, Russia— In the noonday twilight, as dockworkers squint through the gloom to move mountainous heaps of coal bound for Europe, the hum of Arctic power is unmistakable.

The stevedores labour in the damp cold, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, part of the vanguard leading Russia’s latest push to build its future on the rich resources of the Far North.

Grab buckets with massive steel jaws, dangling from yellow cranes several storeys high, chomp at mounds of coal, iron ore pellets and other bulk cargo steadily replenished by a stream of trains from the south. And this is a slow winter’s day.

Russians stopped wondering about whether to develop the Arctic generations ago. The only question now is, how fast can progress march?

The Kremlin has declared the Arctic critical to the country’s 21st-century economy and national security. And it is risking billions on a strategy to reverse years of neglect and decline in its Far North.

A once-utopian vision of the north heavy on Soviet control has given way to a pragmatic view that science and technology, driven by political will and business savvy, can re-energize a slowing economy.

“Strategically, the Arctic is Russia’s future — no doubt about that,” said Anton Vasiliev, Russia’s ambassador-at-large for Arctic issues.

In 2007, Prime Minister Stephen Harper defined what’s at stake in the competition to maintain control of Canada’s Arctic when he declared: “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic. We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it.”

The two countries share at least three-quarters of the circumpolar Arctic, and standing on the Russian side of the vast expanse, the chasm between rhetoric and reality is startling.

About 4 million people live in the circumpolar Arctic. Half are Russians, and some 300,000 of them live in Murmansk.

Another 175,000 live in Norilsk, built by 300,000 prisoners of Soviet gulags from the mid-1930s until the death of dictator Josef Stalin in 1953. The punishing slave labour, bitter Arctic cold and starvation killed more than 16,000 people during those dark years.

With more than a third of the world’s nickel reserves, and some 40 per cent of its platinum, Norilsk still thrives as a mining centre.

Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s New Jersey Nets who is challenging current Prime Minster Vladimir Putin for the presidency in March, ran Norilsk Nickel until 2007. Under him, it became the world’s largest producer of nickel and palladium.

Northern rail lines once busy with trains moving prisoners to a network of Soviet concentration camps are quieter now as the region’s high-cost mines struggle to sell coking coal to southern steel plants.

For the rest of this article, please go to the Toronto Star website:–russia-re-embraces-a-cold-war-in-the-north