Russia's Arctic activities cause 'concern': Emerson

Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson says the government views the recent actions of Russia in Georgia and in the Far North "with great concern," and this is helping drive the Conservatives' Arctic strategy.

"It's not in direct response to that, but we've seen much increased activity in terms of Russian overflights of Canadian airspace. The Americans are seeing the same thing around Alaska," he told CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

"So that's one element, but it's not the only element. It's something that is now starting to give us some cause for serious concern."

While the two situations aren't directly comparable, Georgia had complained about Russian overflights of its territory in the period before their conflict over the breakaway region of South Ossetia erupted.

Experts say the resource-rich Arctic is becoming an increasingly contentious area as climate change makes the region more navigable by causing sea ice to melt.

In August 2007, a Russian icebreaker reached the North Pole. Two Russian mini-submarines went down to the seabed and planted a Russian flag there. Russian state television claimed at the time that the expedition would provide the scientific proof for Russia to lay claim to a huge expanse of Arctic seabed.

Emerson described the exercise as a "what many thought was a somewhat silly flag-planting incident in Canada's Arctic."

But taken with the larger picture of Russian actions against Georgia and its squeezing of Ukraine's energy supplies two years ago, Emerson said both Canada and its NATO allies and former Soviet satellites are apprehensive.

The Tories campaigned on the Arctic sovereignty issue in the 2005-06 federal election, and Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be making his fourth trip to the region this week.

Emerson said Canada is taking responsible steps towards protecting its sovereignty in the Arctic, including:

  • Strengthening an Armed Forces, Coast Guard and government services presence in the region
  • Working on territorial disputes through the United Nations
  • Mapping the seabed to support Canada's claim
  • Working with allies like the United States on ways to secure the Arctic

"We have a logical, peaceful, professional process that's underway," he said. "There's a lot going on."


Canada suffered a tough week in Afghanistan, losing three soldiers to a roadside bombing. Two Canadian aid workers were among a group of four recently murdered by the Taliban.

The Taliban have also been aggressive elsewhere in the country, attacking a major U.S. base and killing 10 French soldiers in an ambush.

Despite that, Emerson said those actions -- while increasing in sophistication -- amount to tactical manoeuvres that don't really change the fundamental security situation on the ground.

"I would say no, they are not winning the war," he said.

The Taliban know there is an American election in the works, along with a "potential Canadian election," the minister said, adding this could be driving the fundamentalist Islamic group's efforts.

Last weekend, the Taliban released a letter threatening more attacks like the one that killed the aid workers if Canada didn't pull its 2,500 troops out of Afghanistan.

"That's part of the terrorist playbook, is to intimidate people," Emerson said. "Canadians are not going to be intimidated. We've got more grit than that."

Canada is committed to its military mission in Afghanistan's Kandahar province, designed to help stabilize the government of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai, until 2011, he said.

[Source: CTV News, Can, 24Aug08]

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The Question of South Ossetia
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