The Arctic Soft Power. Explaining Russia’s Multilateral Engagement in the Arctic Region

Seminar Paper, 2018

17 Pages, Grade: 6.0/6.0



List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

“Russia plays by the rules. The process of carving up the Arctic does not pull Arctic states apart, in fact it brings US closer.”1


When the Russian flag was placed on the ocean floor at the North Pole in summer of 2007, the Western press sought public attention with headlines such as “Arctic Meltdown” or “Arctic Land Grab”. Only recently, Kremlin’s announcement to strengthen its military foothold in the far north was answered by the Western media in similar fashion, stating that “Russia prepares for Arctic War” or “Start of a very cold war”. Even though Russia’s activities in the Arctic vary considerably compared to its entanglement in the Ukraine, the media coverage suggests the same sense of antagonism, competition and crisis. Western commentators first of all tend to overlook that planting a national flag at targets difficult to reach is common among explorers as in the case of the Mount Everest, the South Pole or the Moon. Second of all, Russia has ratified the law of the sea convention which prescribes and establishes rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources - a convention which was not ratified by the United States and several other countries (United Nations 2013). The point is not to criticize the Western media coverage or the absent ratification of the sea convention by the บ.S., but to draw atten­tion to a possible bias in order to impartially examine what kind of foreign policy Russia actu­ally pursues in the High North.

There is a broad consensus among the vast majority of academics and observers of Russia’s Arctic policy, namely that Russia is pursuing an Arctic policy that mainly focuses on compro­mise, collaboration, and stability; therefore, Russia relies on soft power policies such as diplo­macy, multilateral engagement and economic development. For many, this comes rather sur­prisingly, since the political leadership of President Putin is associated with a realist and revi­sionist foreign policy strategy that does not like to follow international rules.

In this sense, this short paper aims to examine the question of what is motivating Russia to pursue soft power policy in the Arctic from different angles. Hence, Russia’s interests in the Arctic are outlined in the first chapter. This is followed by a summary of Russia’s multilateral engagement and the soft power policy it pursues in order to achieve its interests. A short case­study of the Norwegian-Russian delamination agreement aims to exemplify how such peaceful dispute solutions can help Russia to achieve its goals. Drawing on the literature of social con­structivism in the fourth chapter, this theoretical stance is applied in order to explain Russian soft power policy in the Arctic. The paper is concluded by a short discussion of the question asked and by an outlook on Russia’s role as a potential soft-power leader in the region.

Russia’s Interest in the Arctic

First of all, it is important to recall that the Arctic features a prominent role in Russian political discourse and policy, as it is closely tied with vital interests for Russia’s economy and security (Kefferpütz 2010: 2). Over decades, geo-strategists perceived Russia as a landlocked Eurasian heartland naturally opposed to Western maritime nations, which, according to Zbigniew Brzeziński (1997: 197), was “enclosed and contained” by Europe in the west, former Soviet Republic in the southwest, and by India, China, and Japan in the south and east. Often, the northern enclosure of Russia was assumed but rarely directly addressed (Antrim 2010: 18). However, since the Arctic ice is rapidly melting due to global warming, the frozen geopolitical and economic wall in the north is starting to crack, which leads to a reshuffling of the cards in the Far North. No other Arctic country is experiencing the consequences and dynamics of the Arctic melting as immediately as Russia. The causes are its long border, the two million Rus­sians living in the region and the comparatively strong industry located there. Therefore, the following words of the former president, Dmitri Medvedev (2008), should come rather unsur­prisingly: “We must ensure reliable protection in the long-term for Russia’s national interests in the Arctic”. Russia’s general national interests and visions in the Arctic were presented in the document Foundations of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the Period up to 2020 and Beyond and were updated in 2013 by the Strategy for Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and for Providing National Security in the Period up to 2020 (Russian Federation 2009/2013). The main interests can be grouped into three main priorities, which will all be shortly elaborated upon: military security, economic development and trans­portation.

For a number of reasons, the Arctic is of high strategic military importance to Russia. Russia’s main security interest is to ascertain its sovereignty over the Russian Arctic Zone. The close proximity to potential targets and the direct access to the Arctic and Atlantic oceans made the Kola Peninsula-area well-suited for naval operations (Sergunin and Konyshev 2014a: 324). Sea-based nuclear forces, power plants as well as military and sensitive infrastructure are hosted in the area and demand broad security measures (Khramchikjin 2013: 54). Due to the fact that four states of the “Arctic five” are NATO member-states, one of Russia’s greatest security concerns is increased NATO presence and an accompanied militarization in the Arctic (Sergunin and Konyshev 2014a: 329).

Economic development is Russia’s primary interest in the Arctic because of the vast economic potential which lies underneath its surface as well as in the rich fishing stocks in the Arctic Sea. According to the US Geological Survey (2008), up to 13% of the world’S undiscovered oil reserves and 30% of natural gas are possibly located in the Arctic and the majority is ex­pected to be found in Russian parts of Arctic waters. Today, Russia’s biggest export-earner is natural gas, mainly produced in the fields of Zapolyamoye and Nadym Pur Taz in north-west Siberia. However, as gas from those fields is slowly declining, compensations are expected to come from further north, namely off-shore enterprises in the Arctic (Øverland 2010: 870). Transport-wise, Russia is interested in opening the Northern Sea Route (NSR), a shipping route running along the Russian Arctic and connecting the east of the Novaya Zemlya archipelago with the Bering Strait for international commercial traffic, and in developing circumpolar air routes (Sergunin and Konyeshev 2014b: 85). Easier access to and commercial use of the NSR presents a lucrative source of revenue for Russia: nowadays, cargo ships cover about 18’350 kilometres of the traditional Suez Canal route to get from Hamburg to Yokohama, whereas on the NSR the same route is only 11’100 kilometres long (Kefferpütz and Bochkarev 2008: 2). Since the NSR lies within Russia’s Exclusive Economic Zone, Russia could charge a fee for the use of the route and reinvest it in the route’s maintenance, which again would foster its domestic economy. This, because the NSR links Russia’s resource-rich interior, like the No­ril’ sk industrial area - which provides nearly 20% of the world’S nickel production and hosts large high-grade copper, zinc and tin deposits - with the Arctic Ocean (Kefferpütz 2010: 5). Overall, it can be stated that Russia has numerous, vital interests in the Arctic region as well as in the entire North. However, plans for economic development enjoy highest priority and are linked to the need for improved security and defence measures in the region. Therefore, Russia has no interest in sparking any conflicts in the Arctic, “since this would impede upon its future trade and commercial interests by making the circumpolar north an unstable region” (Rosamond 2011: 42). This already indicates that Russia pursues a rather multilateral, soft and non-aggressive policy in the region. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that Russia’s policy in the Arctic is complex, multi-layered and sometimes also contradicting (Zysk 2015: 454). Thus, the focus on Russia’s multilateral engagement and soft power policy covers only one part of the bigger picture. However, the focus is not arbitrarily chosen, as it is one of the dom­inating pillars in Russia’s Arctic policy; so far, it seems to have brought advantages for both Russia and the Arctic region.

Multilateral Engagement and Soft Power Policy

Besides the young history of political interests in the Arctic, the region has been a witness of remarkable international cooperation. Because of its location on the fault line between the East and the West and the long distance away from the epicentre in Europe, the Arctic served al­ready during the Cold War as a testing ground for pioneering multilateral cooperation between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the Western states. In the era of detente, the USSR and the four other Arctic circumpolar states ratified the Polar Bear Treaty which fostered cooperation in managing the sustainability of polar bears through prohibiting random, unregulated hunting and holding states accountable for taking “appropriate action to protect the ecosystems of which polar bears are a part” (Agreement on the Conservation of Polar Bears 1973). In 1987, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev held a widely-noticed speech in Mur­mansk as well as launched the Murmansk Initiative which foresaw to transform the Arctic into “a zone of peace and fruitful cooperation” and was one of the milestones of Gorbachev’s greater desire to end the Cold War (Gorbachev 1997). The Murmansk Initiative developed into a catalyst for the emergence of a row of international regimes and intergovernmental organi­zations (IGO) in the Arctic which have increasingly grown in their governance capacities and influence during the 1990s (Åtland 2008: 291).

Today’s most important IGO is the Arctic Council (AC) founded in 1996 and consisting of the Arctic Five, Sweden, Finland and Iceland, as well as of six organizations of indigenous Arctic groups, all sharing interests in the fate of the region (Maness and Valeriano 2015: 178). Ac­cording to its statutes, the AC is the “leading intergovernmental forum promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, Arctic indigenous communities and other Arctic inhabitants on common Arctic issues, in particular on issues of sustainable development and environmental protection in the Arctic” (Arctic Council 2017). Overall, three functions seem crucial for the roles played by the AC. Firstly, the regular and professional meetings of relatively high state officials have fostered fruitful interstate relations and led to a better under­standing of each other’s views and positions. Secondly, the member-states within AC working- groups share the same scientific data and information and carry-out scientific projects; thus, the risk of misunderstandings is reduced. Lastly, because of its clear spatial separation of agenda-setting and the specific grouping of states, an “Arctic Identity” has emerged, enabling the AC to ensure mutual confidence-building (Graszyk and Koivurova 2015: 321).

Russia itself has taken an active, constructive part in the AC and repeatedly stressed the neces­sity of regional collaboration (Kristensen 2016: 7). Together with Canada, Russia even aims to


1 A Russian high-ranked civil servant ¡n an interview conducted by Elana Rowe and Helge Blakkis ¡n their analysis: A New Kind of Arctic Power? Russia's Policy Discourses and Diplo­matic Practices ¡n the Circumpolar North. Geopolitics 19(1), 65-85.

Excerpt out of 17 pages


The Arctic Soft Power. Explaining Russia’s Multilateral Engagement in the Arctic Region
University of Zurich  (Departement für Politikwissenschaft)
Russian Foreign Policy and Security Doctrine since 1991
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Russian Foreign Policy, Arctic Politics, Soft Power, Multilateralism
Quote paper
Anonymous, 2018, The Arctic Soft Power. Explaining Russia’s Multilateral Engagement in the Arctic Region, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: The Arctic Soft Power. Explaining Russia’s Multilateral Engagement in the Arctic Region

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free