Arctic News Roundup: 24-30 August

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[Photo by Marc Lanteigne]
by Mingming Shi

1) A new book, Benefit Sharing in the Arctic: Extractive Industries and Arctic People, was published this month. This open-access work seeks to examine the relationship between regional natural resource exploration and exploitation activities, and Indigenous peoples in the Arctic, including case studies focusing on Russia’s northern areas.

2) As Eye on the Arctic reported, Jonas Böhlmark, a twenty-nine year old Swedish cross-country skier, completed a Baltic Sea crossing on a paddle board in forty-three hours. This (sleepless) voyage was to allow the athlete to engage in some off-season training.

3) The current Icelandic government, elected in 2017, has been in office for 1000 days as of 25 August, as RÚV reported. Some have argued that the public desire for more political stability has contributed to ability of the current coalition, composed the Left-Green, Independence and Progressive Parties to stay in office. The two previous governments between 2013 and 2017 were much more short-lived. The next parliamentary election may take place in September 2021, as Icelandic Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir has suggested.

4) The Barents Observer reported that Murmansk, the most densely inhabited Arctic area in Russia, has continues to experience out-migration, with the latest figures suggesting a population of 738,900, down by 2500 people since the year began. The government of President Vladimir Putin has been trying to encourage Russians to relocate to the country’s Arctic lands as part of his policies to better develop these regions.

5) A new article, ‘The ABCs of Greenland‘, written by Mingming Shi, was published in Over the Circle, providing a comprehensive overview of Greenland, including politics, history, the economy and other aspects of life in the Arctic nation.

Good Fences? Good Neighbours? The Diplomatic Travails of Norway and Russia

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Norwegian (left) and Russian border markers [Photo by Blyngre via Wikimedia Commons]

by Marc Lanteigne

Compared with some of Russia’s other neighbours, the country’s border with Norway is relatively short, (approximately 196 kilometres), but from a political viewpoint this frontier has, of late, seemed much larger. The events of this year, including the pandemic and the continuing trend towards the increased militarisation of the Arctic, have contributed to a growing list of disagreements between Moscow and Oslo, which may have a spillover effect in other parts of the far north.

Norway, a member of NATO, has been trying to balance its regional diplomacy between maintaining stable ties with an erratic Russia, and addressing US-led concerns about the uncertain near-term security challenges in the European Arctic. Not helping matters are the numerous internal crises which occupy the government of Vladimir Putin, including some which influence his plans to develop the Russian Arctic as an economic powerhouse.

To say that this summer has been a difficult one for Moscow would be understating matters. The Russian economy has been hit by the double calamities of the coronavirus, (with total infections in the country reportedly nearing one million last week, amid ongoing scepticism about a recently announced Russian-made vaccine), and the collapse in global fuel prices. These issues have hampered plans to develop Siberia as a centre of economic growth and revival, as the region has also suffered this summer from embarrassing environmental damage and record-setting heatwaves.

The political situation in Moscow is also facing uncertainty, despite the successful adopting of constitutional amendments which would permit Mr Putin to remain in office until 2036. Russia is currently being bracketed by two slow-burning sets of civil unrest which, while not presenting a direct challenge to the government, nonetheless have served as unwelcome reminders of current vulnerabilities.

To the west, people’s protests in the neighbouring country of Belarus, sparked by an election in early August which was widely believed to be rigged, and subsequent dissent against President Alexander Lukashenko, have presented Moscow with a difficult question of whether or not to intervene, (and if so, by what means). The Russian government has expressed growing irritation with the Belarusian opposition, and President Putin dropped hints last week that he may be willing to lend security support to Minsk if the situation persists.

However, there is also the possibility, given cooler relations between the two governments since last year, that Mr Putin may wait out the Belarusian crisis, focusing instead on forging good relations with a successor government. Direct Russian military intervention to support Mr Lukashenko would be costly and risky and would almost certainly invite an international backlash at a time when Moscow can ill-afford such a response. However, the Putin government is also unwilling [paywall] to see Belarus, a country which Moscow has long viewed as part of the Russian ‘near abroad’ (Ближнее зарубежье) to tilt significantly to the West.

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Rally in Khabarovsk, Russia on 8 August 2020 [Photo by Incredible Terence via Wikimedia Commons]

To the east, anti-government demonstrations in the Russian Far East, centred on the city of Khabarovsk (Хабаровск) have also been a thorn in Moscow’s side since July after the governor of Khabarovsk Krai, Sergei Furgal, was forcibly ousted and placed under arrest for allegedly being tied to murders committed approximately fifteen years ago. The move was widely seen by locals as a direct attempt at political interference by Moscow, and protestors took to the streets not only in support of the governor but also to express their anger at the central government in Moscow. Although these protests have largely been contained to the eastern edge of the country, there have been some public expressions of solidarity between the demonstrators in Khabarovsk and the opposition movements in Belarus, and protests in the city show no signs of slowing down.

Another apparent sign of growing strains within the Russian government took place earlier this month when longstanding Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny became ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk (Томск) to Moscow, and was later transported to Germany for medical treatment following suspicions that he had been poisoned.

Political convulsions in Russia in the past few months have begun to be felt by Norway with increasing regularity. In early 2020, Russia had begun to push against what it perceived as Norwegian government overreach in Svalbard, which is governed by Oslo but subject to a treaty which allows for foreign (non-military) access to the archipelago. Russia is a signatory of the Svalbard Treaty, which observed its centennial earlier this year, but Moscow has stepped up its criticism in the past few months of what it considers discriminatory policies by Oslo which have restricted Russian interests, including fishing activities, in the islands. The two governments have verbally clashed over Norway’s fishery protection zone off of Svalbard, which the Russian government sees as contrary to the Treaty. The Putin government protested the detaining of a Russian fishing trawler in the area, in April this year, for allegedly violating the zone.

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Demarcation line between Norway and Russia in the Barents Sea, as per the 2010 agreement [Map via Wikimedia Commons]

Stresses between the two governments over the Svalbard region may also be affected by an announcement last week that the Norwegian government was seeking to open up new maritime blocks in the Barents Sea between the northern Norwegian coast and Svalbard, including in areas close to the Russian maritime border. The dividing line between the Norwegian and Russian parts of the Barents had been disputed until an agreement [pdf] was struck in 2010. The news of the potential expansion of oil drilling further north in the Arctic provoked a negative response from environmental organisations, noting the potential damage which would be caused by an oil spill, (and with the current fuel leakage off the coast of Mauritius providing a grim case example). As well, this decision may prompt Moscow to further question Oslo’s Arctic policies, and the integrity of the Treaty.

On the actual Norwegian-Russian border, there have also been signs of trouble, linked to Moscow’s ongoing policies of augmenting its Arctic military presence. The border has been closed [in Norwegian] since March of this year due to the pandemic, and this month there have been reports that Russia is seeking to build a tracking facility, featuring a Resonance (Резонанс)-class radar system, near the border town of Zapolyarny (Заполярный). Plans were confirmed in March of this year that a new Norwegian radar installation [in Norwegian] was to be built near the frontier town of Vardø. Existing Globus radar facilities also around the Vardø environs had been subject to mock attacks by the Russian Air Force, dropping an unsubtle hint that these facilities would be early targets in the event of a conflict.

Also this month, Russian news services reported [in Russian] on an encounter between a P3-C Orion aircraft operated by the Norwegian Air Force and a Russian fighter jet over the Barents Sea near Russian airspace. While the Russian media had described the event as an ‘interception’, the Norwegian military stated that it was a routine encounter. The incident took place in the wake of a number of military activities [in Norwegian] along the Norwegian coast, including joint manoeuvres between the Norwegian and American air forces, and the unexpected surfacing of the US Naval submarine USS Seawolf off the coast of Tromsø.

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Decor at a café in Kirkenes, near the Russian border [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

The US military announced this month that it would soon discontinue its rotation of US Marines in Norway, a programme begun in 2018. This would appear to be part of a larger and  controversial plan recently announced in Washington to reduce the overall number of US military personnel in Europe. The American President had contacted Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg in June this year expressing concerns over what he saw as insufficient defence spending for a NATO member adjacent to Russia. As well, outgoing American Ambassador to Norway, Kenneth Braithwaite, during his May 2020 testimony [pdf] to the US Committee on Armed Services, was also critical of a perceived too-light approach by Oslo to the challenges of both Russia and China, comments which received criticism [in Norwegian] back in Norway.

Yet, there remains the question of whether the departure of US marines from Norway will have a significant effect on Russian views of the strategic relationship between Oslo and Washington. As one recent interview [in Russian], a Russian Foreign Ministry representative suggested there is little expectation in Moscow that military cooperation in the Arctic between the US and Norway will abate in the near future.

On the diplomatic front, August 2020 also saw Norway-Russia relations challenged by the arrest in Oslo of a Norwegian national on charges of spying for the Russian government, a move which was swiftly followed by the expulsion of a Russian diplomat from Norway and the reciprocal eviction of an employee with the Embassy of Norway in Moscow.

Autumn weather has already arrived in the Norway-Russia border regions, and the question facing both governments involves the degree to which the incoming cold will match the evolving bilateral diplomatic climate in the coming months.

The ABCs of Greenland

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Greenland [Map via Wikimedia Commons]

by Mingming Shi

Geography and Inhabitants

Greenland, (Kalaallit Nunaat in Greenlandic and Grønland in Danish), is the largest island in the world, measuring 2,166,086km2. The island possesses the world’s second largest ice sheet, after the one in Antarctica, and is now seen as seriously endangered. Most of the territory of Greenland is located within the Arctic Circle, and approximately eighty-one percent of the country is covered by snow and ice all year round, with only the narrow edge of the island being inhabited and suitable for human activity. Greenland is surrounded by ocean, and has a long coastline with a length of around 44,000 km, with numerous fjords and smaller islands.

For Nordic nations, Greenland is widely viewed as being part of Europe, given the short distance to Iceland, as well as cultural, societal and historical connections. However, in terms of geography, Greenland is connected to North America.

The population density of Greenland is low, with the number of inhabitants at around 57,000, most of whom live in the coastal regions in the southwest. The majority of Greenland’s population are Inuit, (a word which means “people” in the local languages), and most of the rest are Danes, with a smaller number of immigrants from Thailand and the Philippines. According to a report by Statistics Greenland [pdf] in 2018, the rate of emigration from the nation has surpassed that of immigration since the 1970s.

The Capital

Nuuk is the capital of Greenland, located in the southwest part of the country, which was founded in 1728 by Danish missionary Hans Egede. The town used to be referred to as Godthåb, but that name was changed in 1979 to its present one. Nuuk is the center of politics, economy and culture of Greenland, and has the first and only shopping mall, Nuuk Center, [in Danish / Greenlandic] on the island to date. There are around 15,000 residents in the city.

Cuisine

The foods of Greenland feature diversified wild animal products. Reindeer, seal, whale, crabs, and prawns are commonly served, while there are only limited amounts of imported fresh fruits and vegetables at comparatively higher prices. Due to  the country’s location in the high north, and mostly inhospitable climate for agriculture, Greenlanders can collect fruits, such as berries, during the summer months and store them for the long and cold winters. However, the island is still highly dependent on imported foods, including dairy and meat products, including from Denmark, Iceland and Spain.

Transportation

To date, there are two main ways of traveling to and from Greenland, namely by plane and by ship. Air Greenland and Air Iceland Connect oversee most of the flights to link Greenland and the outside world, with routes which cover Iceland, Denmark, and a few European cities. There are no road or railway systems between towns and settlements within the island, and so small planes and ships are used to transport people and goods. However, tickets for these are pricey. Dog-sledding is also an alternative when it comes to short distance traveling in some regions.

Leisure Activities

As mentioned above, Greenland is a realm of snow and ice, with long and chilling winters. Snow and ice activities are unsurprisingly on the top of the list of favorites among local populations. A typical winter activity for local inhabitants during the weekend is to go skiing. For example, the Arctic Circle Race is regarded as the toughest skiing race in the world, and tempting for a number of world-class participants, given the intense schedule, challenging weather, and not to mention gorgeous Arctic views. Additionally, fishing, hunting, (permits and licenses required), and indoor sports like badminton are also popular.

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A skiing field near the center of Nuuk [Photo by Mingming Shi]

Languages

Both Greenlandic (Kalaallisut, meaning ‘the Greenlanders’ language,’) and Danish are the official languages in Greenland, with English also taught at school. However, English is less frequent compared with Danish. The Greenlandic language consists of three major types of dialects on the island: North, East and West Greenlandic, and the written and administration language is based on the latter dialect.

Education

Education in Greenland is free, and the mandatory school system covers ten years. In order to obtain a secondary education, many students have to move to larger towns, far away from their families, while a great number of residents decide to drop out because of long distance from home. According to the data collected in 2019, there are only four towns throughout the island that provide high schools. Greenland has its own university: Ilisimatusarfik (The University of Greenland), based in Nuuk. As well, Denmark is another studying option for many Greenlanders, especially those who choose to pursue a university education.

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Flags of the University of Greenland [Photo by Mingming Shi]

Climate

Generally, Greenland is subject to Arctic climates given its location, and the types of local climate are often divided into three [pdf] levels, namely the Low Arctic, the Arctic and the High Arctic. Summers are brief and cool, and winters are long and thrilling. Some regions at higher latitudes on the island experience the polar day (24-hour daylight) in the summer and polar night (no daylight) in winter.

Flora and Fauna

There are more than two hundred kinds of birds which have been observed in Greenland. Polar bears, Arctic foxes, walruses, seals, whales, reindeer and other Arctic and circumpolar animals coexist on and around the island as well. Sturdy and thick-furred Greenland dogs are adaptable to the harsh climate and known for being loyal to their masters. They have been co-working with humanity for around one thousand years, undertaking tasks such as hunting and transportation.

Most vegetation in Greenland is short in stature and, technically, there are no forests on the island, owing to the Arctic climate and local soil conditions.

National Dress

Due to the prevailing occupations of hunting and fishing in Greenland for approximately the past one thousand years, clothing for Inuit peoples used to be subject to the practical functions of waterproof and warm keeping, whose materials were mostly fur from animals, such as seals and caribou. However, with increasing contact with other parts of the world and the expansion of Danish colonialism, new clothing sources were introduced, for example, based on cotton. More ready-made garments have started to be more popular.

The Greenlandic national dress nowadays is also the result of exposure to, and communication with, the outside world. They are often worn for special occasions, such as the country’s National Day, weddings and other formal events.

The number of professions, such as hunters and fishers among Greenlanders are declining, however, clothes made of animal hide are still in fashion. Additionally, foreign brands including Canada Goose and North Face are enjoying market share in Greenland as well.

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Coat made of local seal skin for sale at Nuuk Centre [Photo by Mingming Shi]

Housing

Igloos seem to have appeared in the popular imagination of many people regarding housing in the High North region. In reality, modern homes in Greenland are not very different from those elsewhere in Europe, with heating systems and directly accessible tap water. Nevertheless, in some remote areas, housing conditions are less favorable and inhabitants still have to obtain water from outside sources. One of the striking features of Greenlandic houses and apartment buildings is diverse, vivid colors.

Politics

Greenland is divided into five local administrations, excluding the national park in the northeast. Greenland has a self-rule government and a parliament. There are a number of political parties of different sizes within Greenland, despite its small population. Siumut and Inuit Ataqatigiit are two of the biggest and most influential parties in Greenlandic politics, constantly obtaining the most seats in the parliament compared with others. Kim Kielsen, head of the Siumut Party, has been Greenland’s sixth Prime Minister since 2014.

Greenland also has its own national flag and anthem. The red and white of the flag represent the sun and ice respectively, and the national anthem is sung to convey the praise of Greenlanders towards the land.

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Flag of Greenland [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

Relations with Denmark

The ties between Greenland and Denmark are complex. Early in the late fourteenth century, Danish interests in Greenland was accentuated when Denmark and Norway were merged into one united realm between the early sixteenth century and 1814. However, nowadays, it is universally thought that the milestone in the historical link between Greenland and Denmark began in 1721, when the Danish-Norwegian missionary, Hans Egede, landed on the island, heralding the beginning of the colonialist period in Greenland.

In 1953, the colonial phase in Greenland officially ended, and Greenland became part of the Danish Kingdom. Greenlanders have enjoyed most of the same rights as Danes, use the Danish krone as currency and have two seats in the Danish Parliament. In 1979, the Home-rule Act came into force, and then was superseded by the Self-rule Act of 2009. The latter agreement has allowed for greater autonomy rights to Greenland. However, foreign policy and defense remain the supervision of Denmark. There has been a trend towards support for independence within Greenland. Nevertheless, not every political party or individual Greenlander agrees on the approach, or time frame, of gaining full sovereignty.

International Ties

In addition to Denmark, so far Nuuk has opened three representative offices abroad, namely in Washington D.C, Brussels (overseeing the European Union), and Reykjavík, Iceland. There have been discussions about opening the next diplomatic office, which probably will be placed in Asia. Due to its political status, Greenland has been participating in regional and international affairs primarily through the Kingdom of Denmark, for example in the Arctic Council. Greenland is also a member of Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), a non-governmental organisation representing Inuit peoples across Alaska, Canada, Greenland and the Chukotka region of Russia.

Economy

The seafood industry has been one of the pillars of the Greenlandic economy and a significant source of exports, of which prawns make up the lion’s share. Abundant amounts of mineral deposits have been discovered, and estimated, in the soil of Greenland. Thus, there are a number of small scale mining operations on the island, with only a handful of active bigger projects including ruby and anthracite mining. Moreover, Greenland receives annual grants [pdf] from Denmark, (around 3.5 billion Danish kroner), according to the Self-rule Act, which is fluctuating yearly and may be reduced based on the revenue from mining of the year.

With the Arctic becoming a trendy travel destination, Greenland has been seeking to develop its tourism sector. Sightseeing, outdoor sports, dog sledding and other polar activities are on the top of the list for foreign visitors. Accordingly, infrastructure investment, such as airport expansion and new road building projects, as well as language training have appeared on the agenda of the Greenland government.

In some ways, Greenland may be benefiting from climate change. First, accelerated melting of ice and snow has paved the way to more accessible natural resources [pdf]. Greenland may also develop as an hub for international marine transportation in the Arctic Ocean.

Second, large deposits of natural resources are becoming more accessible and trade-able, including rare earth elements and other minerals have put Greenland in a prominent position in the international market, which may advance its economical performance greatly.

Third, Nuuk has been considering water [in Danish] exports, thanks to glacial melting and retreating. However, all gains may not come without pain, since the impact on the environment and society, of tourism, glacial retreating, mining operations and other activities have yet to be precisely estimated.

Social obstacles 

Greenland had been ranked highest globally in terms of suicide rates. In addition, other societal obstacles include incidents of alcoholic abuse, violence, medical shortage, regional imbalance of development, and labour shortages [in Danish] are waiting to be addressed.

New Times, New Thoughts and New Challenges 

In short, Greenland may be summed up in a few words: vast territory, small population, breathtaking scenery, and an uncertain future.

In the summer of 2019, Donald Trump, the President of the United States, suggested the idea of purchasing Greenland, a move which was intensely unpopular with both Greenlanders as well as Danes. However, this unwelcome proposal appears to not have seriously affected ongoing cooperation between Nuuk and Washington. Earlier in 2020, a US consulate was opened in Nuuk, and there has been discussion about increased American investment in the country.

In the wake of the spreading of Black Lives Matter Movement in the West, the longstanding statue of Hans Egede in Nuuk has been a source of controversy within Greenlandic society. The missionary, who started to colonise Greenland in the eighteenth century, has been regarded as a pioneer exploring this Arctic island. However, this is also a reminder of the unpleasant colonial history. Some local inhabitants have demonstrated their will to remove the statue. However, in a referendum on the removal of the statue, which around 23,000 voters were eligible to participate in, the result was a larger number of people agreeing to keep the statue in its current location. However, only a small fraction of those able to vote actually did so.

Greenland has been advertising itself as an emerging Arctic destination for sightseeing and other outdoor ventures. However, the global COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, and subsequent travel restrictions in the country, have blunted this ambition. Additionally, the affected income from fishery product export may be also a developing concern for Greenland due to the pandemic.

Arctic News Roundup: 17-23 August

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Móri sends greetings to OtC readers in recognition of Black Cat Appreciation Day, which was on 17 August this year. [Photo by Mingming Shi]
by Mingming Shi

1) The Government of Iceland has launched new, and more stringent, regulations covering arrivals in the country, in the wake of the resumption of international flights. This series of rules, the authorities have warned, may be applied for months, as reported in the Iceland Monitor. As well, the Arctic Circle Assembly which takes place every October in Reykjavík, the capital of the country, was cancelled this year due, according to Arctic Today,  to the potential for increasing transmission cases, spikes of the pandemic in other parts of the world, and the strict policy on disallowing large public gatherings in Iceland.

2) 2500 new gold and silver collector’s coins were issued by the Canadian Mint to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Northwest Territories entering that country’s Confederation. Myrna Pokiak, a local Inuvialuk artist in the region, was responsible for the design, as CBC News reported.

3) The BBC reported that the volume of ice melting in Greenland had reached a new record in 2019, which has concerned many scientists. However, as some researchers argue, the future of ice loss on the island is still very much dependent on current and future human activity.

4) An analytical article on the development of the Arctic strategy of the Kingdom of Denmark was published on High North News this week, in light of the recent moves by Copenhagen in updating its policies towards Greenland, including appointing a political advisor to Nuuk on behalf of the Kingdom. This development is viewed as a sign by some observers that the Danish government is becoming alarmed by the increase in great power games in the Arctic, especially considering the recent opening of the Consulate of the United States to Greenland, and so Denmark is endeavouring to not to be excluded in emerging Arctic affairs.

Cold Gold in the Arctic

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Gold dredge site in Fox, Alaska, near Fairbanks [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

by Marc Lanteigne

In the conventional wisdom of business circles, the value of gold tends to increase in times of global economic uncertainty, as the precious metal is often considered a ‘safe haven’ investment option when other financial indicators start trending downwards. When gold prices approached near-unprecedented highs last week, it was understandably viewed as a sign of the numerous challenges facing the global economy in its attempts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

On 24 July, the price of gold approached US$1900 per troy ounce, (the equivalent of approximately 31.1 grams), nearing a record value set in 2011, (the price of silver, another common safe haven metal, also rose at a rapid clip this month, surpassing US$23 per ounce at time of writing).

However, this month has also seen an uptick in the price of copper, and it is unusual for the prices both copper and gold to rise at the same time. Copper is not a precious metal, nor considered a safe haven investment option, but it is a necessity for various types of infrastructure development. This unique trend may reflect optimism about China’s potentially swift recovery from the virus, and the possibility of short-term economic revivals elsewhere.

Analysts have viewed these developments, especially the renewed popularity of gold sales, as not only products of the global recession, (including a falling American dollar and the aftershocks of the Sino-American trade war since 2018), but also the ongoing inability of the United States to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under sufficient control, as well as other geopolitical uncertainties.

Even before the start of the pandemic late last year, gold prices had been on the rise, reflecting demand from several quarters, including purchases by China and Russia, and other governments in Asia. It had also been speculated that both Beijing and Moscow were seeking to increase their gold reserves as a hedge against the American dollar at a time of deteriorating relations between the two powers and the United States, as well as the possible foundation for a gold-backed digital currency. However, it was announced in March this year that Russia would cease further gold purchases indefinitely, likely as a result of lower revenues from oil sales.

This month, reports have suggested that the value of gold might breach the US$2000 barrier before the end of the year, and this might have an affect on the economic fortunes of the Arctic, at least in the near term, given the prevalence of current and potential gold mining operations in the far north.

The relationship between gold and the Arctic region is hardly new, and one event that embedded the precious metal in the lore of the region was the Klondike Gold Rush, in what would become the Yukon Territory, during 1896-9. Americans represented the dominant share of the estimated 100,000 prospectors who moved into the region at that time, a situation complicated both by issues of widespread smuggling and border disputes between Alaska, (which had been purchased by the US from Imperial Russia in 1867), and Canadian territory. Not all voyages to the Klondike were lucrative of course, and one bane of many prospectors was the mistaking of near-worthless iron pyrite (FeS₂), aka ‘fool’s gold’, for the real thing (Au), due to the similarity in outward appearance between the two metals.

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‘All that glistens…’ Iron pyrite (fool’s gold) from Greenland [Photo by Marc Lanteigne]

Famous (and sometimes infamous) figures who emerged from the stampede in the Klondike included Joseph Ladue, who founded Dawson City in early 1897, Major-General Sam Steele [video], head of the Yukon detachment of the then-Northwest Mounted Police, entrepreneur Belinda Mulrooney, and gangster and con artist Soapy Smith. The creation of the Yukon Territory in June 1898 was itself largely due to the influx of prospectors during the gold rush, as the region was seen as easier to administer if it could be separated from the Canadian Northwest Territories.

Gold has continued to factor into many Arctic economies, and like other regional commodities has seen its share of boom and bust cycles. In light of recent economic conditions, however, there has been a considerable amount of activity involving gold extraction in various parts of the far north. In Alaska, which has been struggling both with the pandemic and with the economic impact of collapsed oil prices, controversy has erupted over plans to open a gold and copper mine southwest of Anchorage, with the project (Pebble Mine) promoted by supporters as a potential boost for both the local and state economies. However, the would-be mine has also faced opposition from environmental groups and others concerned about the impact on local salmon stocks. The project had been vetoed under the administration of President Barack Obama, but this decision was reversed by his successor this month, as the current government in Washington continues to dismantle environmental regulations throughout the country.

A different sort of controversy has been swirling around another gold enterprise in Nunavut since earlier this year. It was announced in May that Toronto-based TMAC Resources, which operates the Hope Bay gold mining project in the Kitikmeot region of Nunavut, was to be potentially sold to Shandong Gold Mining (Shandong huangjin kuangye goufenyou xiangongsi 山东黄金矿业股份有限公司), a state-owned Chinese concern headquartered in Jinan.

Opponents of the sale, including local Indigenous communities, have since expressed misgivings about whether the operation will benefit the region, as well as the fact that the purchasing firm is directly tied to the Chinese government. Critics of the deal have also noted [paywall] that the Hope Bay region is adjacent to Canada’s Northwest Passage, an Arctic waterway which China has expressed interest in using for future maritime cargo transits. The frosty diplomatic relationship between Canada and China since the Meng Wanzhou incident began in late 2018, as well as recent moves by Ottawa to limit sales of Canadian assets to state-owned enterprises, may also adversely affect any final agreement.

Elsewhere in northern Canada, other gold projects have begun to materialise, including a report this past week that Gold Terra Resource Corp., based in Vancouver, would commence experimental drilling at sites in the Northwest Territories starting next month. A Canadian firm, AEX in Toronto, is also at the centre of recently confirmed plans to reopen the Nalunaq gold mine, located southwest of the town of Qaqortoq in southern Greenland. The plan received approval [paywall] from the government of Greenland, and the site also garnered praise this month for its limited environmental impact.

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[Photo by Michael Steinberg from Pexels]

While Greenland has been widely viewed as a potential source of numerous metals and minerals in recent years, much of the attention in this regard has centred on the island’s supplies of uranium and rare earth elements (REEs). However, Greenland also houses considerable deposits of precious metals, (gold, silver, palladium and platinum), as well as base metals, (copper, iron, nickel, titanium and zinc). Surveys have suggested that southern Greenland, including the area eyed by AEX, contains distinctively high-quality gold deposits [in Danish].

As noted above, Moscow had previously embarked on a gold purchasing spree, but more recently its own gold production has intensified, including via mines in the Russian Far East, such as in the Chukotka (Чукотка) region, suggesting that the government is anticipating an increasing demand for the metal. This month, it was reported that for the first time since 1994, the value of Russian gold exports surpassed that of natural gas sales during the spring months of this year, reflecting not only reduced energy demand but also global interest in gold purchases. Moreover, it has recently been estimated that nine years from now, Russia will have surpassed China as the world’s largest gold producer.

Uncertainty over the trajectory of safe haven commodities now matches the insecurity of the global economy this year, but at least in the near term the Arctic might be finding itself in the middle of a new, larger, and much more complicated, gold rush.