Staunton, May 28 – Vladimir Kulishov, head f the FSB Border Guards Service, says that Western scholars investigating the Russian North and its nationalities and foreign defenders of the rights of the numerically small non-Russian peoples there constitute a growing threat to Moscow’s control of the Northern Sea Route and must be blocked from doing so.
In a 4,000-word interview with TASS on Russia’s border guards day, Kulishov argues that the West, which has made no secret of its desire to challenge Moscow’s dominance of the Arctic and the Northern Sea Route is now using these researchers and activists as allies against Russia (tass.ru/interviews/8557449thebarentsobserver.com/en/security/2020/05/fsb-general-sees-growing-threat-foreign-arctic-researchers-and-indigenous-peoples).
“Under the pretext of protecting the rights of indigenous peoples and marine environments, various international organizations are making efforts to restrict shipping on the Northern Sea Route, challenge the legal and territorial status of the Arctic and undermine Russia’s stable development of mineral resources,” Kulishov says
Given that the border guards have had plenary police powers over the northern reaches of the Russian Federation under a 2016 law (interfax.ru/russia/515018), these are chilling words and could mean that scholars and civil society activists may now be excluded, arrested or otherwise harassed to prevent them from working there.
And it is entirely likely that Kulishov’s words are a bellwether of the direction Moscow is moving with regard to researchers and activists not only in the Russian North but around the periphery of the rest of the country, moves that could reduce the possibilities for research there and deprive the peoples in those regions of the support that such foreign contacts often provide.
In such places where there is no permanent diplomatic presence or regular visits by foreign journalists, Western scholars and civil society activists play a critical role far greater than they do in Moscow or other major Russian cities. It appears Kulishov and the Kremlin want to reduce that role as much and as soon as possible.