On July 21, the Valdai Discussion Club and the World Economy and International Affairs Faculty of HSE University held a seminar titled “The Arctic Region: Government Policy and Development Amid Conditions of Uncertainty”. The moderator, Fyodor Lukyanov, Research Director of the Valdai Discussion Club, outlined the topic of the discussion as shifts in the Arctic agenda in the post-pandemic world.
Konstantin Dolgov, Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Economic Policy, noted the geostrategic and geo-economic importance of the Arctic and the inevitability of its economic development. “Today, the preservation of the Arctic is its development,” he said. According to the senator, the competition in the region will grow, and the competitor which becomes the main player there will seriously strengthen its position in the world. He added that Russia has many trump cards in its hands and gave a brief overview of the efforts that are now being made by the authorities to develop the Arctic economically. In this regard, he paid special attention to the task of preserving human capital in the Arctic. “We are unlikely to raise the Arctic with shift workers alone,” stressed Dolgov.
Sergei Karaganov, Dean of the Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs at the Higher School of Economics, noted, in turn, that it is necessary to preserve the population, but not through Soviet methods. New ways should be sought, and, in particular, a new concept for the development of the Arctic is required. “Now we need to calmly prepare and figure out how to move forward” amid the new conditions, he said. Calculations for the future of the Arctic as a transport region, in his opinion, have not come true. Traffic flows and world trade are now declining and will continue to decline. Against this background, a lot of expert work is needed. In particular, it is necessary to draw up a detailed and scientifically substantiated map of the development of the Arctic, not to invest where investments will not pay off in a crisis environment.
Alexander Krutikov, Deputy Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic, spoke about the new state policy in the Arctic. He called improving the living standards in the region one of the main tasks. “The Arctic accounts for a fifth of the country’s federal budget revenues,” he stressed, adding that bridging the gap between how much the region contributes to the country and how people live there is one of the key challenges that the ministry should work on. Separately, he also noted the significance of the problem of climate change and the importance of international cooperation and joint international projects.
Nikolai Korchunov, Ambassador-at-Large of the Russian Foreign Ministry, responding to the moderator’s remark, noted the continued importance of the Arctic Council and questioned the prospects for universalising the governance of the Arctic and creating an international treaty on the Arctic that would erode the rights of regional powers, like in Antarctica. Describing the current state of affairs, he said that now there is a search for an optimal strategy for getting out of the pandemic that is currently underway, which makes things look different. The global economic environment and climate change are pushing the world towards a sceptical view of the economic development of the Arctic. Therefore, it is becoming increasingly important for Russia to pursue a full-fledged sustainable development policy in the region, combining economic factors with environmental and social ones.
Igor Makarov, Head of the School of World Economy at the Higher School of Economics, outlined current trends in the Arctic from an international perspective. He noted that the Arctic has not become a territory of cooperation, as it was supposed to be several years ago. In his opinion, the changed situation necessitates that Russia not cling to old competitive advantages, but to constantly look for new ones. Among the promising areas he named both resource extraction (including rare earth metals), and ecosystem services. Makarov, echoing the previous speaker, pointed out the special importance of sustainable development, noting that preservation and development do not contradict each other, and every year there are more and more opportunities to capitalise on “green” development.