Vladimir Putin tells journalists about his trip to the Franz Josef Land archipelago

Vladimir Putin tells journalists about his trip to the Franz Josef Land archipelago

29 April 2010

Question: Mr Putin, what are your impressions from your handshake with the polar bear?


Vladimir Putin: From the pawshake. It was a heavy paw. The master of the Arctic, you can feel that straight away.


When we talk about the Arctic, we must not forget that, geopolitically, Russia's deepest interests are linked to the Arctic, because it is where Russia's security and defence capabilities are provided for. Let us not forget that these Arctic expanses are where our main naval bases are located, as are the patrol routes of our nuclear missile-carrying submarines and long-range aircraft. There are also economic interests, including mineral resources. For instance, the well-known Shtokman field, which we plan to develop, is 300 kilometres off the coast of the Barents Sea. Three hundred kilometres! This is the Arctic. There are also important transport corridors such as the Northern Sea Route. And, of course, there are issues of our cooperation with other countries and the protection of the environment and the natural world.


The polar bear, which we have just seen and which is the subject of study for scientists, is endangered. In 1973 or 1974, a resolution was adopted prohibiting the hunting of polar bears. And it should be said that in the Soviet era, this was strictly enforced. Anyway, isolated cases of poaching did not threaten the population. And then, in the early to mid 1990's, poaching became more widespread again. Now, little by little, we're restoring order here. But the polar bear, as a species, is endangered: there are only 25,000 left in the world. And of course, this is primarily related to the environment, and the shrinking ice sheet.


After all, the Latin name for the polar bear is Ursus maritimus, or sea bear. It is the only large animal that has virtually moved from living on land to living on ice floes, because that is where it finds most of its food. The shrinking ice cap and the melting of the ice in this part of the world render the bears' habitat even harsher. And it is important for scientists to understand how polar bears migrate, how they reproduce and how they nurture their young. All of this is very significant.


I have talked about the natural phenomena that make the bears' life more difficult. But, besides this, you can see behind me here that there are problems associated with human activity. The reduction in military and economic activity in the region after the fall of the Soviet Union left such stockpiles here, such a dump, which unfortunately we still see today. We need to come right out and say it. I'm sure you've heard about just how many barrels there are. According to various estimates, these contain from 40,000 to 60,000 tonnes of oil and lubricants. But they are "stored" in name only, since all of this is in fact leaking into the ground. The pollution level is six times the acceptable level.


What we need to do now is organise a wholesale cleanup in the Arctic. I think that this should be through public-private partnership. But the government must take the first steps, of course. These include determining the extent and nature of this disastrous situation and deciding how to organise the recovery of this waste and making it mandatory in the nearest future.


The main thing is that we work within the framework of international law. We have good relations with our neighbours in the Arctic, and I hope that we will find ways to jointly resolve the very complex problems facing the Arctic. Nature is very fragile here, and, given the well-known warming processes, if the temperature were to rise by three to four degrees, the problems we have been facing in terms of protecting the environment will become much more acute. But this is our concern, it is Russia's concern.


Cooperation in the Arctic is, of course, very important, owing to the fact that there are large hydrocarbon reserves here. We still need to do a great deal to agree on how to manage these resources, how to organise for transport and how to open up the Northern Sea Route. There are many issues involved here. Under the resolution of the Russian Security Council, we must establish 10 stationary stations reporting to the Emergency Ministry and Federal Service for Hydrometeorology and Environmental Monitoring (Roshydromet) along the entire path of the Northern Sea Route. Well, I think our other agencies will also take advantage of these opportunities.


Question: Should we not organise a working Saturday to clean up the Arctic?


Vladimir Putin: As I already said, we need to organise a general clean-up of the Arctic: not only a working Saturday, a working Sunday and work on all the other days of the week.

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