Speech at the plenary session of the Third International Arctic Forum The Arctic – A Territory of Dialogue 2013-09-25 12:30:00 Salekhard President Vladimir Putin: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, friends. It is a genuine pleasure to welcome everyone to the Third International Forum, The Arctic – A Territory of Dialogue. I want to say a particular thank you to President of Finland Sauli Niinisto, for giving this event his attention. He is here for the first time. I also want to thank our regular guest, President of Iceland Mr Grimsson. We are meeting this year in a symbolic place, in Salekhard, the only city in the world located exactly on the Arctic Circle’s latitude. I was talking with our colleagues earlier about when this city was founded. I asked them to give me some more detail and they said the town was founded in 1595 by Russian Cossacks. It was originally called Obdorsk, then became Salekhard and played a crucial supporting role in developing the Russian Arctic, northern Urals and Western Siberia. Over recent years, over the last decade, the town has not simply developed rapidly but has undergone a total transformation and is quite another city today. If you came here ten years ago and then saw it now, you wouldn’t recognise it and would think these were two completely different places. Salekhard continues to play a big part in modern Russia’s life today. Salekhard is the capital of one of the country’s key economic centres – the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous District. We are carrying out big industrial and infrastructure projects here, including projects related to developing the Arctic territories and their natural resources. At last year’s forum we talked about how a new chapter in the Arctic’s history has opened now, what we could call an era of industrial breakthrough, a time of rapid economic and infrastructure development. Russia is carrying out intensive work in the Arctic regions to explore and develop new oil and gas fields and minerals deposits. We are building big transport and energy facilities and reviving the Northern Sea Route. Work in the harsh Arctic environment is very difficult and requires a lot of financial investment and genuinely unique technological solutions. It is clear to us that nature conservation and maintaining a balance between economic activity, human presence, and preserving the natural environment must be key priorities and principles in our work to develop the Arctic. This is all the more important given that the Arctic, with its fragile and vulnerable ecosystems and sensitive climate has such an impact on the entire planet’s environmental state of health. Today more than ever, the Arctic needs particular care and attention. Russia, where the Far North regions make up almost a third of the country’s territory, is conscious of its responsibility for preserving the Arctic’s environmental stability. Many of you here today know that we have adopted the Arctic Environmental Protection Strategy. We are using it as the base for drafting our State Programme for the Russian Arctic’s Social and Economic Development until 2020. Our state policy in the Arctic also takes as a basic principle the establishment of special natural resource use regulations. In particular, the right to extract oil from deposits in the Arctic region can only go to companies that have the most advanced technology and the financial resources to support such projects. Naturally, we will continue our ambitious plan for a major cleanup in the Arctic. Alexandra Land has already been completely cleaned up. Work has already begun this year on Graham Bell Island, and next in line are Hofmann Island, Hayes Island, Rudolf Island and Hooker Island. Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, let me note that the federal budget earmarked 1.42 billion roubles [around $45 million] for cleanup work in the Arctic over 2011–2013. This was the first time we began such a project and the work is continuing actively now. Let me add that high-latitude Russian regions are also undertaking programmes of their own now. In Yamal, for example, the local authorities have launched an initiative to clean up Bely Island. This will return more than 500 hectares of unique land to its natural state. We hope that all of our northern regions will get involved in these sorts of initiatives. I also note that we plan to extend considerably the network of nature conservation areas in the Arctic region. These specially protected natural areas currently make up around 6% of the Russian Arctic, nearly 322,000 square kilometres. Our plan is to increase this area several-fold. We will also expand our efforts to protect the region’s wildlife, especially rare species of whales, dolphins and birds. We are doing a lot of work to study the Arctic’s most famous symbol – the polar bear. We are ready to play an active part in setting up a unified network to monitor polar bear populations, which the Arctic Council is in the process of developing at the moment. The walruses that inhabit the Laptev Sea and the Atlantic’s northern waters also deserve our attention. Their populations are dwindling. We hope to stabilise the situation through the special programmes to study these species, which we plan to carry out. Of course, effectively resolving the tasks related to ensuring the Arctic’s environmental health depends directly on the actions of all countries in the region and of the entire international community. Russia is a major Arctic power and is ready for the closest possible partnership through the Arctic Council framework, the Global Environment Fund and the UN Environment Programme, above all in developing modern technology and establishing common environmental standards. Let me remind you that in 2008, the “Arctic Five”, including Russia, issued a declaration that sets out the international legal base for responsible governance in the northern sea areas. I want to reaffirm today Russia’s commitment to this declaration’s principles, and also to our desire to do everything possible to make the Arctic in practice a territory of partnership, cooperation and dialogue between countries and between the public at the broadest level. Once again, I thank everyone taking part in the forum for this constructive discussion of the challenges facing the region we share – the Arctic. Thank you very much for your attention. <…> Vladimir Putin: Let me say a few words more, ladies and gentlemen. I would like once again to thank our colleagues, the Presidents of Iceland and Finland, and our colleague from Canada, for finding time in their busy schedules to come here to Russia’s Far North. The 66th parallel is indeed a very northern part of our country. I already said that a third of Russia’s territory is within the Far North, and so for the Russian Federation, work in the Arctic Council, on the Far North’s problems, on developing the Northern Sea Route, and in the Arctic in general is not just of national economic importance but has a humanitarian dimension too given that we have a large number of indigenous peoples living in this part of our country. There are big interests concentrated here – economic, political, and humanitarian, as I said. It is therefore essential for us to join forces for effective work in this part of the world and in our region. It is absolutely clear now that the climate is changing. Everyone is talking about this. What is causing this change is not so important now. What matters is that it is happening. It is clear now that the northern latitudes can be open for shipping for 100 days or perhaps 150 days, and that new regions are opening up for economic activity. Of course, as we have said many times and heard today too, the Arctic is a very vulnerable region in terms of maintaining the environmental balance and the need to keep this balance, and so we must be very careful about how we go about our economic activity in the region. In this respect, it is important for us to hear the views of experts, our neighbours in the Arctic, members of the Arctic Council and even countries from outside the region that have an interest in responsible management of these territories. We talked about wildlife protection, economic activity, and protecting indigenous peoples’ lawful interests. I think it would be incorrect for me to pass over in silence the incident that took place at our offshore platform, Prirazlomnaya. I am referring to the attempt by Greenpeace members to board the platform. All the media have been talking about this. But it would be much better if people from Greenpeace joined here in this hall and expressed their views on the issues we are discussing, or set out their complaints, demands or concerns. No one is trying to brush them aside. We gather for these kinds of events precisely to discuss all of these issues. I do not know the details of the incident. They are obviously not pirates, but formally, they did attempt to board the platform. Our law enforcement officers and border guards did not know who was using Greenpeace’s name to try to board the platform. This coincided with the events that were taking place in Kenya, so anything was possible and we didn’t know just who these people were out there. What is clear is that they violated international law and came dangerously close to the platform. Humanity through the ages has always used nature to survive, and the more time passed the more this was so. At first it was hunting and gathering, then it was using mineral resources, metals, fossil fuels. Can we stop this process? Of course we cannot stop it. This is not where the issue lies. The issue is how to make rational use of nature so as to minimise the damage we do to the environment or eliminate this damage altogether. Is this a realistic goal? Overall, it is probably a major challenge, but we nonetheless must work in this direction and I think that we can achieve our goal. Hydrocarbons are being produced all around the world, including at coastal and offshore sites. We all know that when fracking is used to produce shale gas the people in nearby towns no longer have water coming out of their taps but a blackish liquid that it would be difficult to call water. This poses a huge environmental problem. People always encounter these sorts of problems in hydrocarbon production. Whether the work is offshore or on land, there are two main aspects involved. One of them is transportation, and as we know, there have often been accidents in transporting oil. The other is risks at the actual production sites. I will not repeat the details. The audience today, the experts, you all know about these tragedies. I will just mention a few of them. In 1988, I think it was, there was a terrible disaster at a platform one of the US companies was operating in the North Sea. An operator’s error caused a fire at the platform and more than 160 people were killed. A much more recent and purely environmental disaster happened when there was a gas burst in the Gulf of Mexico and a huge volume of oil escaped to the surface. This caused tremendous environmental damage. When such actions take place – and at that moment underwater work was being carried out – anything could happen. Operators could make mistakes, and technology could break down, putting people’s lives and health at risk. Is it worth risking such grave consequences for the sake of carrying out PR stunts? I therefore stress the point that we are ready and willing to work with all partners, and with all of the environmental protection organisations. But our position is that this work needs to be conducted in a civilised fashion. We want not just to listen, but to hear what each of us has to say, and to take the measures needed to protect the environment. By the way, as far as offshore projects go, Russian companies are engaged in offshore work in various regions, in the Far East, the Caspian, and now in the Arctic too, and they have never had a single serious incident. I hope the fact that they all use the very latest technology means that they never will. As for continuing our work through the Russian Geographical Society’s initiative, I want to thank you all once more and assure you that we will continue to pay the utmost attention to all issues concerning the environment and protecting nature. We are very grateful to you for responding to our call to work together through the Russian Geographical Society, especially on the Arctic region’s issues. As I said at the start of my concluding remarks, this region is very vulnerable and requires particular attention from the experts and the public. I agree with my colleague from Iceland in hoping that the leaders of all of the Arctic countries will join in these efforts. We hope very much that they will give more and more attention to the issues that we discuss at this forum. Thank you very much. I hope that next time we meet we will discuss issues every bit as topical as those we discussed today. Thank you.