Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Russia's town in the Arctic- Cold Logic?

Valery Rzhevsky- Very confident his model will become a northen
Russian outpost.

He calls it Umka. A town in Russia's frozen northern arctic coast. Or at least it will be according to architect Valery Rzhevsky who designed it. He says it will be a base for engineers working to extract oil and gas from under the arctic sea bed.

"It will also be a port on the northern sea route," he enthuses. Russia has long dreamt of opening a route along it's northern coast for ships from the Atlantic and North Sea to the Pacific. "This would put a port on that route for ships and their attendant ice breakers to stop at." Valery goes on to describe how the town of 5000 people would be enclosed from the elements by giant insulated metal walls. Inside would be a gym, a park, a swimming centre and even an orthodox church.

But Valery also freely admits it's part of an unashamed grab for territory in the arctic. While the UN convention on the law of the sea tries to assess various claims to the arctic seabed, Russia especially has not been waiting for the process to finish. In 2007 the famous Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov used a special mini submarine to plant the Russian flag on the arctic seabed. He and other Russians claim a huge area of seabed including the north pole is a geological extension of the Russian continental shelf under Russian territorial waters. That would give Russia control over potentially vast natural reserves of gas and oil. The arctic is estimated to hold up to 13% of the world's undiscovered oil and 30% of its undiscovered gas.

Many fear an arms race gearing up in the region with Russian, Canada, Denmark and Norway and the U.S. among those building and training new arctic military and naval forces. But as for the $6.4 billion arctic town, Chilingarov is sceptical, telling Rzhevsky when he saw the plans, "it's not yet forbidden to dream in Russia." It will take a long time to see if this project really does materialize, or is just a Russian white dream.

A model of 'Umka', the arctic town. The church is in the foreground,
the port in the distance.

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