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On November 29, 2022 the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in partnership with the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk (NEFU) held a round table “Russia and Asian Actors in the Arctic: Interests and Cooperation Opportunities” as part of the 6th Northern Forum on Sustainable Development which takes place from November 28 to December 1 in Yakutsk.

During the event, leading experts discussed major common interests of Russia and Asian countries in the Arctic, as well as potential bilateral projects in the field of energy, logistics, science and green cooperation. Experts paid special attention to opportunities for closer cooperation between Russia and China, India, Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries in the Arctic.

On November 29, 2022 the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in partnership with the North-Eastern Federal University in Yakutsk (NEFU) held a round table “Russia and Asian Actors in the Arctic: Interests and Cooperation Opportunities” as part of the 6th Northern Forum on Sustainable Development which takes place from November 28 to December 1 in Yakutsk.

During the event, leading experts discussed major common interests of Russia and Asian countries in the Arctic, as well as potential bilateral projects in the field of energy, logistics, science and green cooperation. Experts paid special attention to opportunities for closer cooperation between Russia and China, India, Japan, South Korea, and ASEAN countries in the Arctic.

Nikolay Korchunov, Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials, Ambassador-at-large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Guo Peiqing, Professor, Ocean University of China, Vladimir Petrovsky, Chief Research Fellow, “Russia, China, World” Center, RAS Institute of China and Contemporary Asia, Amit Bhandari, Senior Research Fellow, Energy, Investment and Connectivity, Gateway House, Kumar Rajan, Associate Professor, Centre for Russian and Central Asian Studies, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Evgeny Kim, Leading Research Fellow, Center for Korean Studies, RAS Institute of China, Ekaterina Koldunova, Director, ASEAN Centre, MGIMO University, and Anna Kireeva, Associate Professor, Department of Asian and African Studies, Research Fellow, Center for Comprehensive Chinese Studies and Regional Projects, MGIMO University took part in the discussion.

Julia Melnikova, RIAC Program Coordinator, moderated the round table.

In Brief

Nikolay Korchunov

  • Despite the complicated international situation, the priority of Russia’s chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023 is to continue working on the sustainable development in the Arctic. Moscow is focused on curbing negative economic effects on the regional environment, increasing the use of renewable energy, developing scientific and business projects, and improving the living conditions of the indigenous people in the Arctic.

  • The Arctic region accounts for 11% of Russia’s GDP and about 20% of its export. In addition, Russia’s share in the international economic activity in the Arctic reaches 70%. In this regard, Moscow supports peaceful and constructive cooperation in the region and rejects armed conflict in any form in the Arctic as a possible scenario.

  • There are many questions concerning the future of the Arctic Council., Unfortunately, today multilateral cooperation in the High North is degrading. However, Moscow still welcomes cooperation with all countries and organisations that take a constructive approach to the Arctic region.

  • The High North represents a huge potential for international partnership, especially, given new challenges and opportunities. In most cases, the complexity of issues in the Arctic requires joint financial, technological, scientific, and organisational efforts. Russia enjoys a vast experience of cooperation with Asian countries and endorses further projects with them in the region.

  • Russia believes that the Arctic has a great potential in green energy, namely, it is rich in critically important minerals and metals, and offers some innovative concepts which can accelerate the global energy transition.

Guo Peiqing

  • The cooperation in the Arctic is an important tool. It requires particular measures to increase its efficiency and more companies to strengthen multilateral interaction in the region.

  • The Chinese government is highly interested in the future of the Arctic Council. Sanctions imposed by the Western states may seriously alter the Russian policy in the region. The G7 members use the Arctic Council as an instrument against Russia during its chairmanship. Nevertheless, all countries have to accept that Russia is an indispensable part of the Arctic Council.

  • Many countries are interested in the Arctic region. If the Arctic Council members refuse to maintain relations with Russia, they will inevitably have to pay the price of its increased cooperation with Asian countries, including China. Potential areas for partnership encompass energy sector, tourism, and infrastructure. A number of Chinese companies have already intensified their efforts in these fields. This is not in the interests of the US.

  • The study of permafrost is a promising area for cooperation in the Arctic. Climate change accelerates the thawing of permafrost. It may lead to the revival of dangerous viruses and bacteria considered to be extinct. This is an existential risk to the whole population of the Earth. It is essential to create a mechanism for the exchange of information in this field so that these viruses are not used as a biological weapon.

Vladimir Petrovsky

  • Five Asian countries, namely China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, have a status of the Arctic Council Observers. Since February 24, they have split into unfriendly states (Japan, South Korea, and Singapore) and friendly ones (China and India). Cooperation with the second group has a great potential for Russia.

  • After February 2022, Russia and China have become closer strategic partners in the Arctic. Further cooperation with Asian countries in the region deals with oil and gas extraction projects in the Northern part of Russia. Nowadays Western countries have suspended their participation in these initiatives. Yet when it comes to Asian shareholders, the situation is not that clear, since a number of Asian companies still participate in several Arctic projects.

  • Asian countries are interested in the Arctic’s oil and gas resources and the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a shorter transport corridor to Europe. China also views the NSR as a part of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Moscow and Beijing work on connecting the BRI with the Polar Silk Road. From Russia’s perspective, the NSR is a strategic project rather than a commercial one. It is a long-term factor in the future economic development of the Arctic region. This project requires joint efforts of the Eurasian Economic Union in case of its implementation.

  • According to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, some sea routes in the Arctic can be considered international. However, the Arctic states can regulate navigation in maritime zones, adjacent to their territories. It limits the opportunities for cooperation.

Evgeniy Kim

  • South Korea’s economy ranks as the 10th largest economy in the world in terms of GDP and the 6th largest economy in terms of foreign trade. The shortest delivery routes are very important for the country. Seoul has invested many efforts to get an observatory status in the Arctic Council. However, South Korea is not going to participate in building infrastructure for the Norther Sea Route, until the projects are completed. Then the country will be ready to offer logistics support which is very important for the existing supply chains.

  • South Korea seeks to participate in solving global issues. At the same time, the country has strong military and political ties with the US which seriously influences its views on the Arctic. It includes intensions to ensure the Arctic’s status as a demilitarized zone and to deprive Russia of the Northern Fleet.

  • South Korea is interested in developing relations with the Russian population, small and medium-sized enterprises and supporting local Arctic population and indigenous people.

Amit Bhandari

  • The main problem India faces right now is a high oil import rate. It is not only an issue of energy security, but also an issue of food security, since natural gas is used as a feedstock for fertilizer manufacture. India tries to shift its energy mix from traditional fossil fuels to renewable energy but still depends on import of many recourses.

  • India-Russia cooperation on energy sector is mutually beneficial. Russia depends on oil and gas export. India needs stable sources of oil and gas supply. This makes Russia a very complementary partner for India. Moreover, the country is ready to invest in this sector.

  • Another area of bilateral partnership between Russia and India is LNG projects. LNG terminals can’t make progress without long-term financial investments. India is in a position to provide long-term supply for natural resources. Russia should also consider that Western countries may completely replace Russian gas in the future.

  • From the Indian perspective, the Arctic is a sensitive region which requires greater study and protection. The Arctic is also a resource-rich region. Bringing these resources into the world bucket in a sustainable and safe manner should be a priority for India as well.

Rajan Kumar

  • India and Russia are geopolitical partners. At the present moment the countries enjoy the most favourable moment over the last three decades. The Arctic is a region where India and Russia can intensify bilateral cooperation, especially on climate change, transport, and logistics. New Deli has an interest in developing connectivity in the Arctic region with a focus on the Northern Sea Route and a transport corridor.

  • India and Russia can cooperate in economic and scientific issues. New Deli also favours joint projects in humanitarian sciences. Moreover, India is ready to accelerate interaction in the region in other spheres to substitute Arctic countries rejecting partnership with Russia.

  • Two members of the Arctic Council, Sweden and Finland, are no longer neutral states. Their plans to join NATO create a security dilemma in the region. The Arctic should remain a demilitarized zone to ensure global security.

  • Historically, Indian companies haven’t been very active in the Russian market. Nowadays Russia attracts many major Indian investors. The trade turnover between Russia and India is growing. This trend is likely to stay in the future. However, there are some areas where the countries still need to pay more attention, e.g., the export of Indian workforce.

  • It is also necessary to develop cooperation in the Arctic within BRICS, the SCO, and G20 under the Indian chairmanship.

Ekatherina Koldunova

  • Singapore’s joining sanctions significantly hampers strategic cooperation with Russia. However, economic, environmental, and climatic logic will apparently prevail over politics. Cooperation with China and North-East Asia is also promising.

  • The status of a competitive transportation hub and a center of innovations is a priority for Singapore. The country also attaches great importance to the climate agenda, particularly when it comes to the Arctic region.

  • Before February 2022, Russia and Singapore had marked out the avenues for interaction in the Arctic, including joint scientific and technological research, e.g., technologies of oil and gas extraction and biodiversity issues. Currently these projects have been put on hold.

  • There are some prospects of using the Northern Sea Route as a full-fledged alternative to delivering LNG from the European part of Russia to Asian countries.

  • In the nearest future it is highly unlikely that Russia and Singapore, as well as other ASEAN countries, will observe any dramatic positive changes in their relations until the existing geopolitical problems are resolved.

Anna Kireeva

  • Japan is very dependent on oil and gas. Trade with Russia is beneficial for the country in terms of prices on natural resources. However, Japan hasn’t started to work with Russia on the Northern Sea Route projects and doesn’t consider it as a transit corridor to Europe.

  • LNG is especially important for Japan because of its transition to greener and more sustainable energy sources. That is why Japan has always taken an interest in different projects in the Arctic. The country began to invest in LNG projects 7-8 years ago. Currently Japanese companies have suspended their participation in these initiatives but reportedly may return to them. There have also been other projects, e.g., gas storage in Kamchatka. However, they were at the stage of feasibility study, and investments hadn’t started before February 2022. Currently, further Japanese participation in these projects is apparently not an option because of the geopolitical situation.

  • Japan shares the view that the Arctic is a place for international cooperation and the region shouldn’t be dominated by the Arctic states. All countries may have an access to rich resources of the Arctic.

  • Global tensions have also influenced South Korean involvement in the Arctic projects. The contract for the construction of 15 gas tankers for Arctic LNG 2 has now been suspended by South Korean contractors because of the issues with payments from Russia.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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