Murmansk hosting economic forum – off to a shaky start

Publish date: October 14, 2009

MURMANSK – Environmentalists have been asked to take part in a conference on global warming this Thursday where they will be facing off with oil and gas giants who wish to begin drilling the enormous estimated reserved of the Arctic shelf as soon as possible.

Murmansk first economic forum will be kicking off in this city today. Other similar gatherings have naturally taken place here, but this one has seemingly lost its right to call itself a forum.

In the days leading up to it, the organisers were in a state of slight shock. They were shocked not only because of the frivolous video advertisement of the forum that was being played on the Russian internet. More specifically, they were caught off guard by the unexpected number of people wishing to attend – among those, politicians, bureaucrats, NGO representatives and businessmen from Russia and abroad.

This clamour began when Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced his intentions to attend – who at the last minute changed his travel plans and will be going to China instead. Despite this unfortunate news, some 1,500 people still plan to descend on Murmansk and the forum is only set up to accommodate 1,000 – a confirmation that not all participants have planned to come to see Putin in person.

The Forum is devoted to harnessing the natural resources of the the Arctic. Murmansk is trying to position itself as the capital of these endeavours. The most highly placed ministers from various departments of the Russian government, as well as executives from Russian gas giant Gazprom, France’s Total, and Norway’s StatoilHydro – which comprise the three companies of Shtokman Development – are expected to attend.

The Forum will focus specifically four specific areas: an exhibit called The Northern Oil Complex; a plenary session called Strategies for Developing the Arctic; The Continental Shelf of the Arctic – World Resource Potential, and a conference called Developing the Shelf Step by Step.

Energy projects coordinator from Bellona Murmansk, Nina Lesikhina, will also be attending.  

“I think this event has been arranged for lobbying the Shtokman project,” said Lesikhina. “The practical conclusions of the forum can only interest small and medium businesses, for instance from the service sector, that have not yet cut themselves a piece of the pie. The big contracts have already been signed by the industrial giants.

In Putin’s absence, the most important government official in attendence will be Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. The forum, after all, is only economic in title. The participants will also be discussing geopolitical, cultural and other issues. The forum will also host a meeting of the Council of Nations of the Barents Euro-Arctic Region that will take place between the foreign ministries of Russia, Norway, Sweden and Finland.

Ecological problems slated for discussion
Environmentalists are slated to take part in the forum to discuss the fight against global climate change as well as to participate in a round table on “Tasks in the Area of Protecting the Environment on Track for Ecologically Sustainable Social-Economic Development of the Murmansk Region.”

However, many activists who spoke with Bellona Web still don’t know the concrete theme of the discussions. They note that the effectiveness of this conference and round table discussion will depend on the content of what is discussed and the realisation of their recommendations.

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