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  • I'm on an island near the North Pole and I'm here to find out who owns the Arctic.

  • As the ice melts more and more in this region,

  • you can see just how dramatic the ice has been shrinking.

  • One of these countries has shown that they're willing to fight for it.

  • Russia's making a new push into the Arctic.

  • This is the Wild West.

  • Investment opportunities opening up in sort of an unusual area: the Russian Arctic.

  • The Arctic region has strategic and economic importance.

  • The pace of melting is only getting faster.

  • Russia projecting its power.

  • Use diplomacy to avoid further conflict in the High North.

  • So, I'm not allowed to

  • take my camera down into the mine. So I've been given this explosion-proof

  • super fortified camera. In case it explodes, it won't cause a death fire for

  • the entire community.

  • This coal mine is owned by the Russian government,

  • it's in a town with Russian flags,

  • and the bust of a Russian Communist revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin.

  • But, this isn't Russia.

  • It's Barentsburg, on the island of Svalbard near the North Pole.

  • It's a place that exists for strategic reasons, not for making money.

  • In fact it loses money. Has for decades.

  • Russia funds this place because for them, it means influence in this region.

  • A frozen ocean, that is melting more and more every year due to the changing climate.

  • This is what the Arctic Ocean looked like in

  • September 1984. Fast-forward thirty two years and this is what it looks like:

  • September 2016.

  • Most of the world sees this as a looming disaster, but for the

  • Arctic nations this change means an opportunity:

  • Access to a brand new ocean.

  • Here's what geologists think oil and gas resources might look like in the Arctic.

  • The US Geological Survey estimates that the region holds 30 percent of the

  • world's undiscovered natural gas and 13% of its oil.

  • These resources are still remote and costly to access but they're more

  • accessible every year and suddenly this desolate region is very interesting to the world.

  • New shipping routes are also opening up and this ocean, that was once frozen,

  • is now navigable for longer periods every summer, cutting weeks off

  • the trips between Asian and Western markets.

  • The topic of borders in the

  • Arctic region is a little bit complex and it's an issue that's still open

  • for discussion and negotiation. Currently the border lines in the Arctic Ocean

  • look like this.

  • Every country gets their default maritime borders that are

  • 200 nautical miles off their coast. The rest of the water that doesn't fall within

  • these exclusive economic zones, is up for grabs to anyone who can prove

  • that it belongs to them. And that has a lot to do with a continental shelf.

  • A continental shelf is a part of a country's landmass. It's just covered with ocean.

  • The continental shelf continues until it drops off into the deeper parts of the ocean.

  • Since the ice has been melting, countries have been sending out

  • submarines to gather data on the continental shelf. They put together a

  • scientific case and submit it to a UN committee. This committee reviews it and

  • decides whether or not the country's claim is scientifically valid.

  • Extending from our coastlines, lying beneath the sea, is an extension of our country

  • called the continental shelf. It determines the new borders of our

  • country. Knowing where the edge of the continental shelf lies, adds millions of

  • square kilometers to our country and makes the resources on the seafloor and

  • beneath the seabed, Canada's.

  • So far Norway and Iceland are the only two nations

  • whose continental shelf claims have been submitted and approved by the UN, but

  • others have submitted claims that are waiting for approval.

  • Look at Russia's claims versus that of Greenland,

  • the large Arctic island that actually belongs to Denmark.

  • The claims overlap significantly.

  • Canada is in the process

  • of gathering data and is expected to submit a claim that will also have some overlap here.

  • The UN committee that evaluates these

  • claims is made up of scientists, not diplomats. Their sole job is to say

  • whether or not the claim is scientifically valid.

  • It's then up to the

  • countries to negotiate how to work out who gets what.

  • Russia has shown its interest in having a claim that extends all the way to the North Pole.

  • In 2007 Russia went so far as to plant

  • its flag on the seafloor under the North Pole.

  • And if push comes to shove, Russia

  • likely won't concede its North Pole claim to the tiny nation of Denmark,

  • whose claims overlap with theirs. Russia is easily the biggest player in the

  • Arctic neighborhood. Half of the Arctic is flanked by Russian coast and they

  • easily wield the most influence and they have the most to gain from global

  • warming and the ice melting. And so they're refortifying and renovating a lot of

  • their strategic outposts here in the Arctic.

  • 50 airfields by 2020,

  • putting special forces. They're training, holding military exercises in the Arctic.

  • In recent years Russia has been reopening, fortifying, and building new military

  • bases in the Arctic region. They've been publicizing their military exercises,

  • which include reindeer, huskies, and soldiers in uniforms that look like

  • they belong in a Star Wars film.

  • Russia is sending us important signals, that in the Arctic,

  • they will project their own power and capabilities and I don't see a

  • sufficient response from the US and NATO, to recognize that increased military position.

  • One of those outposts is the town of Barentsburg, which is right

  • behind me, here on the island of Svalbard.

  • Barentsburg isn't a military facility, like all those other dots on the map, but

  • it serves a similar purpose. And to understand why Russia wants a town on

  • this island, you have to understand Svalbard. It's unlike any other piece of

  • land on earth and not only because it's the northernmost inhabited part of the planet.

  • The Svalbard treaty, signed in 1920, says that any country who has

  • signed the treaty can have its people on Svalbard and exploit the land for

  • commercial or economic purposes. The land technically belongs to Norway, but 45

  • countries have signed the treaty and so 45 countries have economic claim to this land.

  • The one rule is that no nation, including Norway, is allowed to have

  • military assets on Svalbard. So Russia set up a coal mine up here, not

  • to make money. Russia pays for these coal

  • miners to be here to sink economic roots into this land. If there's ever

  • dispute about boundaries or if oil is someday found off the shores of Svalbard,

  • Russia will be at the table where those discussions are happening and

  • Barentsburg will be their bargaining chip.

  • It's their claim to this land.

  • What's most fascinating to me, is that this strategy plays out with people.

  • The people living here in Barentsburg are effectively placeholders for a Russian

  • strategy for the Arctic. And yet when you talk to them that's not really on their mind.

  • They're not thinking about geopolitics,

  • they're not thinking about the changing landscape of the Arctic, and

  • what that means for Russian policy.

  • For Russia, coal has been their main economic activity,

  • it's what they've been doing here for years, but coal is in decline

  • and their operation is slowly losing people and interest and so they're

  • realizing they have to pivot to a different economic activity, that is more

  • sustainable for the future. And for them the answer is tourism.

  • On Svalbard, it's kind of clear: the coal mining era,

  • is something which is, you know, disappearing.

  • It's a bust.

  • Tourism, science, nature protection is its future.

  • You can see Russia's renewed interest in this island taking place

  • when you walk around the town of Barentsburg.

  • The consulate is undergoing

  • some renovation right now. They're like gutting the whole thing and renovating

  • after years of neglect. It's a small village of a few hundred people and it

  • has an entire consulate. This consulate serves more as a statement than a

  • functional asset for the Russian government.

  • All these renovations suggest

  • that they expect this ghost town to become a major tourist destination, but

  • making money isn't the motivation here.

  • Of course it's impossible that

  • Barentsburg one day will support itself without any funding from the government.

  • It's impossible.

  • The pivot to tourism isn't just about keeping deep

  • economic roots in Barentsburg. It also serves a purpose of turning Barentsburg

  • into a spectacle, for people to see just how much Russian identity is tied to the Arctic.

  • Newly refurbished buildings, new Arctic theme bars, museums that tell the

  • story of Russian presence in the Arctic.

  • These aren't military bases or airfields,

  • but this sort of projection of culture and identity goes a long way in creating

  • association with a place, in exerting influence.

  • It's called soft power.

  • Funding all of this on a faraway island that belongs to Norway, is the epitome of soft power.

  • And it's a perfect complement to Russia's surge in hard power in the Arctic.

  • Remember all those dots?

  • The most long-range air patrols with bear bombers since the Cold War,

  • forty five thousand troops, three thousand four hundred military vehicles,

  • forty one ships, fifteen submarines, and a hundred and ten aircraft.

  • What do you think Russia's trying to achieve in the Arctic with that massive military buildup?

  • I don't know.

  • I believe, however, that we are going to have to figure it out.

  • But up until now Russia has been playing by the rules

  • on the maritime borders front. Following all the UN protocol and making

  • claims in a very orderly fashion, but they've also shown some provocative

  • behavior in protecting their influence in the region.

  • On the one hand for Russia

  • to benefit economically from the Arctic, it has to be a stable cooperative environment.

  • The best thing you can do to spook off companies and economic investment,

  • is to think that the region could be prone to conflict.

  • But we have to remember that this is the government that annexed Crimea a few years ago.

  • It's a government that's not afraid to project power in its neighborhood.

  • They're showing us both tracks, sort of this dual policy of wanting to be open

  • for business, but be able to growl a little bit and show its muscular teeth

  • for its military and those two, eventually they're a little incompatible.

  • This region is changing fast.

  • The treaties and norms that have kept it

  • in order for years are becoming incompatible with the physical realities.

  • As the ice melts, the region will become more valuable. New borders will be drawn,

  • and new opportunities to project power will emerge.

  • We can only hope that Russia continues to play by the rules.

  • My favorite part about being in the Arctic while I was making this story,

  • was going on these late night hikes.

  • A lot of the footage in this video was shot after midnight,

  • when the sun would kind of just hover around the horizon.

  • The light would be beautiful for hours at a time.

  • And it was just such a crazy experience to watch the sun never set.

  • Anyway, thanks for watching the second episode of Borders, I published the first episode

  • last week. And I'm going to continue to publish these every week, on Tuesdays.

  • I also want to say a big thank you to lululemon, who is a sponsor of Borders.

  • They sent me these ABC pants, which are

  • these sturdy pants are used for both active hiking, as well as just kind of lounging around.

  • They're super comfortable.

  • Thank you lululemon for sending me these ABC pants,

  • but more importantly thanks for supporting Borders, and for making this whole thing happen.

  • If you want to check out these ABC pants, I'm going to leave a link here,

  • where you can go over to the lulu shop online, and check them out for yourself.

  • That's it, stay tuned: one week from now, I'm releasing the next episode of Borders.

I'm on an island near the North Pole and I'm here to find out who owns the Arctic.

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It's time to draw borders on the Arctic Ocean

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    Justin posted on 2018/07/03
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