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Russia declares war on Canada in the arctic!

Ah, the long-standing conflict of rhetoric between Russia and Canada over the high arctic has just be raised a notch.  Vladimir Putin, that bastion of Russian democracy, declared that he will be sending the Russian military to protect Santa Clause and the North Pole from those underhanded Canadians, who seem to think that it's theirs!

Perhaps a little context would be helpful.  Canada, Russia, the US, and a few Scandinavian countries all own bits and pieces of the high arctic.  All are part of the circumpolar Arctic Council.  But all of these countries are presently in the midst of a massive land grab, not seen since the settlement of US and Canadian wests in the 19th century.

You see, global warming, caused primarily by human created carbon emissions, is changing the arctic.  Relatively warmer temperatures, less year-round ice, and better accessibility to the region means a lot for access to resources (natural, such as natural gas and oil, but also resources such a precious minerals, fish stocks, etc).  Less year-round ice also means that the Northwest Passage, a route through Canada's high arctic, would be open for shipping, cutting down shipping times from the US east coast and Europe to the Asia-Pacific and saving billions for companies.  But the passage is a very sensitive ecosystem, and with little to no regulation or ability to regulate in the arctic means that devastating accidents are likely to happen.

Now, the question is, who owns the arctic?  Canada?  Russia?  No one?

Canada is in a long-going fight with the US about the status of the Northwest Passage.  The US, for strategic and political reasons, declares that the Northwest Passage is an international strait, and any ship bearing any flag may use the strait.  In essence it is extraterritorial waters.  Given that the US doesn't give two hoots about the NW Passage, and cares a lot about the Straits of Hormuz and of Taiwan, Canada will continue to butt heads with its neighbours to the south over the status.  The conflict is much more about words rather than territory, but to maintain its long-held position on international straits, the US won't back down.

Canada has also sparred withe Denmark over Hans Island, a little speck of rock between Greenland and Ellesmere Island.  But the conflict was purely diplomatic, and often times rather amusing than threatening.  I've spoken to a former Canada foreign minister about battles over bottles of alcohol and flags left on the island.  Ahhh, gotta love the Danes!

But the conflict with Russia is different.  Russia and Canada have long sparred on and over the arctic.  During the Cold War the Russian threat was met by building highly toxic radar stations in the high north, and sending fighter jets to chase wandering Bears and Badgers.

WIth the end of the Cold War, the conflict has moved to the arctic seabed.  Russia and Canada have been in the process of mapping the seabed, as the UN Convention of the Seas requires that any seabed/continental shelf claims must be backed up by clear mapping data.  Russia also planted a Russian flag on the North Pole, showing that Canada didn't have the resources to take care of the arctic - if you can't use it, you lose it, more or less.

Canada has been using military-type rhetoric over the past 7 or so years with regards to their arctic policy, talking about building deep-sea ports, military bases, installing drones to patrol, and building super-icebreakers.  Unfortunately, none of these material resources currently exist.  Canada does not have the force to back up the rhetoric.  Russia does.

Let's hope this escalating war of words does not end up causing an international incident...or injuring Santa!

PS Maybe the Russians are just worried about the upcoming Olympics ;)

 

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