Great Game for Arctic in Ukraine struggle?
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Western allies charge that Moscow has sent at least 1,000 regular army troops into the two easternmost oblasts of Ukraine, Donetsk and Luhansk, to back up the separatist rebels there. Russia's President Vladimir Putin responds with an outburst of presumably unintentional irony. He compared Kiev's encirclement of rebel-held Donetsk and Luhansk to the 900-day Nazi siege of Leningrad in which 1 million civilians died. Speaking at a pro-Kremlin rally at a lakeside youth camp, he also told supporters—some waving banners bearing his face—that Russia remains a strong nuclear power and therefore "it's best not to mess with us." He added that Russians and Ukrainians "are practically one people"—recalling his recent references to the disputed areas of southeastern Ukraine as "Novorossiya." So, let's get this straight... he accuses his enemies of being like the Nazis while enouraging a fascistic personality cult around his own leadership, while making claims to the territory of a neighboring country on ethno-nationalist grounds, and while threatening use of nuclear weapons. This is another example of what we call the Paradoxical Anti-Fascist Rhetoric of Contemporary Crypto-Fascism. Although in Putin's case, it is barely crypto.
And Putin also made a reference to the Arctic, with its bountiful energy resources and thawing waterways, as an emerging new point of conflict between Russia and its western rivals. "Our interests are concentrated in the Arctic," he said. "And of course we should pay more attention to issues of development of the Arctic and the strengthening of our position." (The Guardian, Reuters, Kyiv Post)
NPR points out that an emergency NATO summit called to address the Ukraine escalation, it is Canada that has taken an aggressive stance, even offering the following tweet to taunt the Russians:
Geography can be tough. Here’s a guide for Russian soldiers who keep getting lost & ‘accidentally’ entering #Ukraine pic.twitter.com/RF3H4IXGSp
— Canada at NATO (@CanadaNATO) August 27, 2014
BBC's Russian service reported that Canadia's Foreign Minister John Baird expressed alarm at Russia's growing military presence in the Arctic. "We are deeply concerned. We obviously want to protect and promote Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic," Baird was cited as saying by a Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson. "It's a strategic priority for us. With respect to the militarization, we'd prefer to de-escalate it, but Canadian sovereignty, it's very important that we protect and promote it."
Russia began expanding its Arctic presence last year by reopening a military base in the Novosibirsk archipelago, which had been abandoned decades earlier. The base has now been reinforced with several warships and nuclear-powered icebreakers. Canada in early August dispatched two icebreakers to the area in early August tasked with mapping out the Lomonosov Ridge, an area also partially claimed by Russia and Denmark. (Moscow Times)
Canada's new Arctic push includes an expedition now underway to find the remains of the ill-fated 1845 expedition of Sir John Franklin, whose ships the Erebus and Terror were lost while searching for the Northwest Passage—an elusive prize which is now finally navigable thanks to global warming. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has actually gone up to the Arctic for the expedition. He told reporters aboard the HMCS Kingston, which is participating in the search: "Ultimately it isn't just a story of discovery and history and all those things, but it's also really laying the basis for what's in the longer term Canadian sovereignty." (Toronto Star)
Russo-Canadian geography wars on Twitter
Note that Moscow retaliated to the Canadian tweet with one of its own, including a map showing not only Crimea as part of Russia rather than Ukraine, but also showing Abkhazia and South Ossetia as separate from Georgia... According to Wikipedia, the only governments that recognize these two mini-states as independent from Georgia are Russia (of course), Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh (likewise Russian-backed separatist enclaves with little other international recognition), Venezuela and Nicaragua (both tilting to Russia as a means of tweaking Uncle Sam), and Nauru. This last one is tricky; it was one of the few governments to vote against Palestinian statehood in 2012. Why is it supporting statehood for Abkhazia and South Ossetia? We assume that the bosses of Transnistria feel miffed at having been left off the map... And we can be grateful that at least the map does not show "Novorossiya" as either Russian or independent.