A new cold front could open up in the political tension between the European Union and Russia over energy. This time in the Arctic.
On Wednesday, the EU put forward proposals that could see it pushing to ban the tapping of new oil, coal and gas deposits in the Arctic in an effort, it said, to protect the region from further disruptive climate change.
Russia, a major holder of Arctic territory where an abundance of its hydrocarbon and fish stocks are found, is not too pleased with the proposals with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak telling CNBC Thursday that they were politically-motivated and nonsensical.
“ I was a bit surprised when I heard about this yesterday. Why the Arctic, why not the Equator? One could come up with a number of places in the world where oil and gas production must be banned,” he told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the Russian Energy Week conference in Moscow, according to a translation.
“This proposal has no other motivation than political,” he added. “What do these statements tell us – that we need to stop extracting the entire gas produced at the moment? I think that the authors of these proposals have very little understanding of the real state of affairs,” he said.
The EU proposals come at a time when tensions are already high between Russia and the EU when it comes to energy, and specifically natural gas. Prices have been soaring as Europe’s demand is squeezed by tighter-than-expected supplies.
Russia has said it has ramped up gas supplies but critics say it is using its gas exports to the region for political purposes , chiefly its bid to get Germany to certify the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Russia denied it was exploiting Europe’s gas crisis, with President Vladimir Putin insisting to CNBC on Wednesday that Moscow was not using gas a weapon.
Tensions in the Arctic have already been growing between regional players for a number of years, particularly in light of Russia’s quiet expansion of its political, economic and military influence there.
Unlike Russia, the EU is a comparatively new player in the Arctic and the bloc, per se, is not a member of the Arctic Council , an intergovernmental forum to provide a means for promoting cooperation, coordination and interaction among the Arctic States, although the Council includes the EU member states Denmark, Finland and Sweden.
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The EU appears to be looking to increase its role in the region, however, and in a proposal mooted by the European Commission on Wednesday, it noted that “the Arctic region is of major strategic importance for the European Union, with regard to climate change, raw materials as well as geostrategic influence.”
It said it would aim to “strengthen EU engagement” in the region through “contributing to maintaining peaceful and constructive dialogue and cooperation in a changing geopolitical landscape, to keep the Arctic safe and stable” as well as “pushing for oil, coal and gas to stay in the ground, including in Arctic regions” and “supporting the inclusive and sustainable developmen