In September 2010, the German news magazine Der Spiegel explained that Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has a "soft spot for the Arctic," with Putin saying Russia "will put huge amounts of money into environmental protection" and is "planning to do a serious spring cleaning of our Arctic territories."
Putin was up there petting polar bears to drive home his dedication to his new heartfelt cause. I'm not kidding -- although researchers had to first sedate the bear he caressed as he spoke. Putin also didn't let the bear go without first attaching a transmitter. Old KGB habits die hard, I guess.
That was then. Today, Putin is focused on re-presidenting himself next March, and musing that he wants the Arctic Passage to become the next Suez Canal. "But how will the polar bears feel about all the traffic?" you might ask. Remember, if the bear causes any trouble, it's still wearing that transmitter and will probably be shot from a plane.
This is a typical case of "cover for action": claiming environmental concern as a reason for Arctic interest and presence when the deeper interest is an economic one. Welcome, world, to "Cold War Reloaded: The Arctic Frontier." Time to pull the pin out of the top of that dusty globe you have on your desk and have a look at the battle line of the future -- rife with oil and high-value raw minerals.
So, how will the squabbling go down? It will ultimately be Russia against everyone else. Canada and Russia have the bulk of Arctic land, with the USA, Denmark, Iceland and Norway also having some claim. Canadian fighter jets chased Russian military aircraft out of Canadian Arctic territory in 2009 and 2010, with the first incident occurring just before President Obama's official visit to Canada.
There's no better match for Putin on the international stage than conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper -- so aloof, enigmatic and mysterious that he has managed on occasion to elude world leader group photos at summits, despite being in attendance. Harper's Arctic defense spending spree indicates that he knows where this is all headed. When Canada appears to be in a full-out arms race, it's a pretty reliable sign that something significant is going on.