Alexander Stotsky: “The Arctic is space on Earth”

The Russian Arctic is a difficult node of problems and hopes. Development of the Arctic is the future of Russia, so, in any case, it is generally accepted. However, the population of the Arctic zone is decreasing, and the fate of many Arctic projects (starting from the grandiose Shtokman field) looks questionable. Wi talk with the General Director of the “Project Office of Arctic Development” Expert Center (EC “POAD”) Alexander Stotsky about the work of its structure and about problems accompanying the Russian presence in the Arctic zone.

— Alexander, the first question: what, in fact, is the “Project Office of Arctic Development”? How it was created, and why was it created?

— EC “POAD” was created in 2017. Before that, I lived and worked for a long time in the North, in Nenets autonomous district, first in the oil industry, and then as deputy governor of the NAO. When I returned to the “middle area” and worked for some time not on the Arctic path, I felt that the North still did not let go.

Then together with my comrades from NCO sector we decided to create an organization that adheres to the principles of sustainable development and to the extent possible implements them.

The goals and functions of the expert center are very simple: popularizing knowledge about the Arctic for every interested person. These are government agencies, the population, business, and public structures, including organizations of indigenous small peoples of the North and the Far East.

We are adherents of anthropocentric approach in sustainable development. Our principle is sustainable development for people, not people for sustainable development. In this case, it is necessary to take into account the interests of nature and the needs of the economy. That is, to consider sustainable development as a combination of many factors that would allow nature to be preserved now and to achieve economic growth in the future without prejudice to nature and in the interests of people.

Both are almost mutually exclusive things, as you understand. Do we care about the economy — or about the ecology? After all you need to get the maximum profit at the minimum cost. Do we care about the social issues — or about the economy? You need to spend everything, no one earns. These are the problems that create tension. They can and need to be solved comprehensively.

– What kind of projects are you implementing today?

— There are a lot of them. But I would mention first of all our annual rating “Polar Index,” in which Arctic regions and companies operating in the Arctic are ranked. The index was co-developed by POAD specialists and economists of the Department of Environmental management economics of the Faculty of Economics of Moscow State University — Doctor of Economics, Professor Sergey Nikonorov and his team. Rating reveals compliance of regions and companies to principles of sustainable development.

Together with the Ministry of Eastern Development and Deputy Minister Alexander Krutikov, who then oversaw the Arctic in the ministry, we were also preparing the Development Strategy for Arctic zone of Russia until 2035. Our idea was unusual — not to trust writing strategies only to scientific institutions or the ministry apparatus, but to discuss the draft strategy openly: with the participation of people, local leaders and residents.

Alexander Viktorovich agreed at this risk. With the participation of the Deputy Minister, we held strategic sessions in all Arctic regions. In Karelia, for example, the discussion turned into a real glider, when many problems were solved right in place. The second session, where I personally attended, took place in Vorkuta. There are 5,500 empty apartments in Vorkuta. However, they cannot be disconnected from communications, since they do not exist separately, on their own, but are inside of residential real estate where people continue to live. It is not clear how to approach the problem. Apartments are abandoned, and the city is forced to deal with them. It costs half a billion rubles a year.

A lot of such difficult issues were raised at strategic sessions in different regions. Largely based on the results of these sessions, a strategy appeared. In addition, residents sent about 600 offers to the specially designed site, which became also part of the strategy. As a result of this great work, we decided to publish quarterly journal Arctic 2035. Its future 4th issue is dedicated to international issues of interaction in the Arctic, because now Russia will assume the chairmanship in the Arctic Council.

— Why Russia needs the Arctic?

— For many decades there was a “Stalinist” attitude towards the Arctic: outposts are being created in the North, people are sent there to do something important, maintain ports, mine coal, cut forests, but all this is held at the expense of the “big land” that sends them, finances them, maintains them. If strategic interest of “big land” in Arctic outposts disappears, outflow of the population occurs, people return to more comfortable regions. Yes, you are right. In the Arctic regions, there was a feeling of abandonment for quite some time: “survive as you like.” I was in Noyabrsk in 1997–1998 and there were terrible stories. For example, about the fact that in the hut the bath fell from the second floor to the first, to neighbors. But gradually the situation still changes. 2.5 million people live in the Arctic zone — the population of the middle Russian region. We consider the Arctic one big “province,” only it is “latitudinal,” stretching throughout the North of our country.

It should be borne in mind that the western Arctic countries do not have such northern cities as ours: Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, Severodvinsk, Novodvinsk. In the Arkhangelsk agglomeration only, there are more than 500 thousand people, and this is in the Arctic, where six months is a polar night. Survival, and adaptation of people are a non-trivial socio-psychological and economic task. There must be some truly grandiose goals to keep people there and give them confidence in the future.

— Are these goals clear?

— They should be asked directly from the Prime Minister and the President. In the meantime, we are engaged in “small affairs.” Here in Norilsk we have an educational center “White Bear”. We keep a teacher, and two methodologists there. This is a classroom, children come there, they are told what a polar bear is and how arctic ecosystems are arranged, they are taught better relate to nature.

We have linguistic projects as well. Enz live in Taimyr, more than 200 people, up to recently they had no approved writing. We had to do organizational efforts to get the Enets alphabet book published. Now with its help the Enz children can try to preserve their native language, which today 40 people know only.

POAD has a grant program. Within its framework, small money is allocated, 50 000–100 000 rubles that help a person solve some kind of scientific or creative problem related to the Arctic: to publish a book, to collect a museum collection, to hold an event. There are even a grant project to recognize the Nenets deer chasing layka as a national treasure. After all this is a unique northern breed of dog, it also needs to be preserved.

As you recall, there was recently a fuel spill in Norilsk. EC “POAD” together with the Association of indigenous peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East and specialists from the Federal Agency for Nationalities developed a concept and conducted ethnological expertise: local representatives of small indigenous peoples believe, that they were affected by the spill, but how to measure it?

We attracted scientists who took samples of soil, water, and fish for independent examination. A program has been developed for assistance to local residents, in addition to direct compensation payments. After all, the money received quickly end, and people need to earn something constantly, especially if they have decreased opportunities for fishing, which is the main source of income there.

We hope the situation will change with the construction of a visit center for the development of tourism, the creation of reindeer herding agriculture, the new burial of several lakes. There are a few more projects that we think it through. These are all very important things.

Arctic in the global dimension

— If we talk not about your projects, but about federal ones, what is the most interesting thing happening now in the Arctic?

— An icebreaking fleet is being built. There is an atomic mobile plant “Academician Lomonosov,” which can approach the shore and supply electricity to the whole city. Of course, Sabetta — it was a breakthrough project. However, it was able to be realized only thanks to tax preferences. That is, some activity occurs, but we heavily need increase in number of large, global projects.

For example, the Northern Sea Route is a project that could be a locomotive of Arctic development, because it needs a coastal structure, ports, and so on. In the meantime, those 30 million tons that were transported by NSR during one year represent mainly liquefied gas produced at Yamale in Sabetta. 30 million tons is not enough, because annually a billion tons of cargo are transported through the Suez Canal alone.

However, steps to develop the Northern Sea Route are recently actively undertaken. For example, a Committee on Arctic affairs was created in St. Petersburg, with which POAD has a cooperation agreement and which accumulates competencies of St. Petersburg enterprises. Let’s not forget that St. Petersburg is the largest historical center of shipbuilding and shipping, its participation in the development of the Arctic should only increase.

— Are the consequences of international competition in the Arctic felt?

— There is more talk about it, for example, that while we push our shoulders with America, China, as a “wise monkey,” sits on the hill and waits for its hour. Americans are actually worried and started construction of a new icebreaker. The Chinese are also building them, they have announced a concept of The Northern Silk Road within the framework of the doctrine of “One Belt — One Way.” But by now, all these steps so far seem testing: so to speak, placing flags, everyone wants to show “we are here too”.

Scandinavian countries historically fear Russia. However, before the events of 2014, there was a plenty of agreements at different levels with them, especially when Shtokman gas field was launched. Then some cooling happened. But I don’t like talking about that America by the hands of the Scandinavian countries is escalating tensions in the Barents region… All this is half a truth.

I personally would like to continue our former friendship. According to my experience of work in the Nenets district, connections were by no means confrontational, but prospects for international projects are promising: for example, the Northern Sea Route could link Murmansk with Norwegian ports.

— The last question about your dreams and plans: what would you want from the Russian Arctic? In which direction should we move?

— You know, recently we discussed a futuristic project: the construction of a road under a special dome. It seems to be worth about 1.5 trillion rubles. We seriously discussed the feasibility of this in Norilsk. There, the road from the airport goes in waves due to the progress of eternal frost, in winter it is covered with snow. That is, even such seemingly fantastic projects reach the practical level.

The Arctic is space on the Earth, because for a human being both temperatures — minus 70, as well as minus 230 — are extreme cold. The Arctic requires maximum tension from us. Maybe the Arctic is a kind of a step towards the transformation of humanity into a true cosmic civilization.

Interviewed by Konstantin Frumkin

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