The new battle for North Pole supremacy – VPRO documentary

This is not just about the natural beauty of the Arctic This is also about what’s happening It’s an alarming trend Everyone is preparing for something It’s inevitable The Arctic will become the new front line The main question is: Who owns the North Pole? 20, 30 years ago we weren’t looking north at all The Arctic was an inaccessible, ominous region where it was dark most of the year, cold, and where we had no reason to be We didn’t look north And that has clearly changed You can really see the ice melting, and a lot is happening as a result The northern routes can already be used by commercial shipping companies Large reserves of minerals, oil and gas are becoming more accessible Tourism is on the rise And it’s militarized There are a number of countries that border the Arctic that have the Arctic Ocean as their northern border In that sense, Russia is by far the largest player Followed by Canada, and the Canadian army tries to maintain a presence there The United States’ Arctic region is very small, only Alaska really If the two superpowers clash anywhere, it’s there Interestingly, China has recently declared itself a ‘near-Arctic state’ China’s Arctic interests are huge because they will benefit a lot from the Northern Sea Route So that makes for a complex game between these superpowers In the Canadian Arctic the climate is so extreme, the winters are so cold In those conditions, the Canadian army has to try to operate and survive

In March, it was still minus 40, 45 degrees And they have to operate on incredibly large ice shelves using snowmobiles that usually don’t work because the fuel pumps freeze and the soldiers suffer from frostbite It’s extremely cold, and simply pitching a tent is often not enough So they also learn to build igloos They saw blocks out of the snow and use these to build a traditional igloo which offers much better insulation than a tent But the idea is that army units, in Canada and elsewhere in the Arctic should build permanent bases there Arctic Shield is meant to protect shipping routes and offer emergency aid in the case of a disaster or a shipwreck But in today’s world, a conflict can easily arise over there And then it will really be a Cold War I didn’t realize that the ice has such a huge effect Because it’s white, it reflects sunlight So it’s our fridge When it disappears and it becomes an open ocean the heat of the sun will be absorbed by the seawater So the water temperature will rise even faster and the effects will be very clear to us in the Netherlands and elsewhere We all grew up with an image of the globe

with a white spot at the top and one at the bottom Now the one at the top is disappearing We will live to see that When we really started looking into what’s happening and how fast, it was a shock It has such a huge impact on people’s lives The indigenous people, the Inuit, live off traditional hunting and they have always lived there The Inuit have permission to hunt a certain number of whales per year And every spring, they migrate north They do this at the moment when the sea ice starts to break That’s when channels are formed in the sea ice which are used by whales to come to the surface for air But when I was there, the sea ice had already melted completely Only a narrow strip at the coast was thick enough, but the rest was open ocean This made the whales very hard to spot, because they didn’t follow the channels It has a huge impact, because an entire village can live off a whale for months So when the number of whales they can catch goes down the existence of these communities is under threat There are shops, but things cost four times more than elsewhere in the US So basically, life becomes impossible for these people We were in the United States, in Alaska There was no running water, no sewer

I’ve visited other poor communities in the US, but this was something else Once a day, there’s water at a single location in the village People have two hours to bring their jerrycans The expectations are that there’s an enormous wealth of minerals in the Arctic There should be a huge jackpot there Not just oil and gas, but also copper, iron ore, lithium, gold, silver, you name it The area claimed by the mine is huge It’s half the size of the Netherlands

That’s also because they expect to find new gold reserves at other locations And add to that all the minerals they hope to find beneath the Arctic ice The Arctic is a gigantic floating ice shelf In 2007, the Russians planted their flag below the North Pole ice, on the seabed and claimed that the Russian continental shelf extends to the pole The Law of the Sea determines where the territorial waters of a country become international water But in the Arctic, it seems this law is constantly violated and disrespected Which explains why the region is currently seeing such rapid militarization The main question is: Who owns the North Pole? I don’t remember in what year that flag was planted on the North Pole I think it was 2007 or 2008 That was a pretty powerful statement But it doesn’t mean Russia owns the North Pole It was very showy A symbolic move, saying: Look, we were here I think that was the message To show that Russia has been conquering the Arctic region for a long time and the North Pole is the centre of it Russia has been active in the Arctic much longer than just the last decade This gives them a certain lead, allowing them to get further than the rest A new module was opened allowing for more gas to be extracted That was a very important moment Leonid Mikhelson, CEO of Novatek arrived to symbolically push the button to start production This is the start button – The left one? Shall we do it together? Now push Did it work? – Yes The gas reserves in the Bovanenkovo gas field amount to 175 trillion cubic feet The second gas field could yield up to 6216 million cubic feet per day We are located directly above the centre of the second gas field If you look at the size, you understand how large the area is Taken together, the two gas fields are 16 miles long All the people who come here from another location

say they have never seen such a vast gas field Whether they come from Transgaz or from Medvezhye or Urengoy they have never seen anything of this scale How much gas is still here? How long will people be working here? When Alexey Miller came here to open the second gas field module exactly a year ago, he mentioned 2084 So there will be people working here who aren’t born yet All the tankers can navigate through the ice They can plough their own way through seven-foot-thick ice But sometimes, when the ice is thicker, it doesn’t work That’s why there is always an icebreaker on standby to clear the way for them through the ice Then the tankers can pass through It was an absolutely unique experience to be on the open sea and see an icebreaker passing by, gradually making its way through It’s very strange to see something like that You’re not on the road, but it looks as if a giant car is passing by That was a bump – Stay on course A bump? – Yes They are about 15 by 15 feet Pretty massive bumps I shouldn’t get used to them, because the next time I’m here on a regular ship I have to remember to sail around those bumps Otherwise the ship is wrecked Over here, they keep coming It’s one bump after the other Are there a lot of bumps this year? – Yes, a lot We’ve had quite a frost It was minus 35 for a long time Look over there An arctic fox? It’s almost completely black How crazy It probably hasn’t moulted yet The opening of the Northern Sea Route which climate change has facilitated helps Russia and Putin to open up the Arctic Do you think a lot of shipping companies and businesses will make use of this? I hope so. First of all, it’s economically beneficial for everyone: For shipping companies, senders and receivers The route will be much shorter and the costs will be lower For instance, if you sail around Africa, you’ll have high fuel costs But now, with the Northern Sea Route, you can travel in a straighter line Gas extraction only recently became possible here

All of this is very impressive It’s already a historic project similar to the construction of the BAM railway line in the Soviet Union the mining of the steppes, the diverting of the rivers They accomplished incredible things That’s what the country was known for The Soviets could do it It’s very similar to what’s happening now And when you speak to those people, you notice that they’re proud to be part of this They’re called upon to do something important There’s a huge oil field, Novoportovskoye It’s about 130, 150 miles long A gigantic field, of which we know for sure that there is oil There are no roads or railways, but they still have to transport the oil That’s why they built that big thing there It looks like a huge giraffe And they named the giraffe the Gateway to the Arctic It is not just a giraffe It’s connected to the pipelines The pipes go all the way to the bottom and the giraffe is used to pump the oil into the tankers It’s very impressive, because it’s quite far off the coast The main developments take place at Yamal I believe that 90 percent of the current Russian gas reserve is located there Yamal is a unique place where the native people have preserved their traditions They live by their own traditions just like they did a thousand years ago They are nomads Life here is very tough, but we have to keep going You have to keep moving, or you’ll be in the afterlife in no time We are like the reindeer, always moving We get everything from the reindeer: transport, food, clothing It has always been like that Are you a scientist? No, I’m a photographer I’m reporting on the Arctic Yamal is my favourite place There will be a big exhibition in Paris In Paris? – Yes, I’ll show your people there You don’t have the right to say: This is my land

The land belongs to the state People always say: The land, gas and oil belong to the state Do you feel this land is yours? Yes, for me it feels like my own land That’s why it hurts sometimes I’m not that old yet, but I’ve lived here all my life I care about this land, where my children could run around And where our reindeer walked around It made me happy Bit by bit, those times are disappearing It’s understandable that they feel that outsiders have invaded their land to take something away from them But I doubt whether they could have extracted the oil themselves Probably they didn’t even know they had oil and gas Is Gazprom giving them enough in return? When it comes to those who receive compensation from Gazprom at all I’m not so sure Gazprom doesn’t help us anymore They just come and take the gas All of it is part of Russia’s riches So your own Yamal Republic then? Yamal used to be part of the USSR, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics At the time we should have separated, like Ukraine Then we would have had our own oil well now We’d be rich now – Very rich, yes We would have our own sheik Then all the Nenets, young and old, would have millions in their account Millions We should have separated back then, like Chechnya But there was a terrible war there Ukraine also separated Everyone got out in their own way All 15 Union Republics are independent now Then we would be independent as well Yamal was going to be an independent state in the time of Yeltsin He did offer that, yes That could have happened then But then we would have become a target Then the Americans and Chinese would be here right now But we ourselves wouldn’t be in this land anymore Then a kind of kidnapping took place The children were being taken away I saw children run out into the tundra I don’t think anyone wants this Every time it’s a huge drama, especially for the children It’s hard to be away from your family Even though they built a fancy boarding school for you you’d rather stay with your mother in the tent

It’s very clear to me that militarization is taking place And that’s alarming, not only for Russia For all countries, at least the five or six surrounding the Arctic these developments are alarming I don’t know, but maybe the Cold War is back already But even if it’s still cold now it’s clear that you have to prepare for a real war The Russians feel they have to increase the protection of their own borders So yes, the soldiers are coming back They’re doing serious exercises There’s a lot of activity Attention Stand at ease Forward march one two three Russia is a vast country our army is bold and strong the boys grow up brave They sing that they’re the polar forces that they’re future heroes, defending their homeland as arctic troops It’s not an easy task They practise for hours to learn how to march well and sing the school hymn defend against the enemy we will not disappoint the people and protect Russia Stop You forgot a line I didn’t forget anything – Yes, you did He didn’t forget anything Why are you pushing me? – Did you say it? Yes – Why are you pushing me? He did forget something: This It doesn’t matter Stand to attention Attention, stand at ease March The size of this place is impressive It’s an enormous school This school was built for the local population Everything is large-scale They do this to lay a solid foundation for the future Hello, comrade-pupils – Hello, comrade-captain second rank They’re still children, but ten years from now they will join the army It’s a very special school There aren’t many of these in Russia What’s that? – An iceberg This is an iceberg So what is that? It’s water that’s frozen It’s ice and – When it melts the whole world will be flooded The temperature will rise and the icebergs will melt, at the tip and the bottom Pessimistic experts claim that the water can rise up to 33 feet Then many cities will be flooded – Exactly Maybe it’s not so bad if some parts of the Arctic melt If there’s no reflection of the sun, the temperature will rise Go ahead Just imagine Antarctica A huge mountain of ice If the sunlight is not reflected, the temperature will go up Exactly It’s not an ordinary education They are specially trained. They don’t read fairy tales, but other books From a very young age

they’re raised to be men They learn how to handle weapons and march for hours They’re always in peak condition Attention, gas mask Wait a second At the back, there’s something I am sarin gas I am coming for you Inhale, into your lungs Your strap should be like this Otherwise gas will pass through and you slowly die How slow? Do this twice That’s enough Let’s go to the emergency ward It’s a special school A prestigious school, with a strict admission policy It’s a trend for Russian families to send their children to such a school Because they already learn a trade there and their future is decided Aim at the target One more time Backwards It’s an alarming trend Everyone is preparing for something It’s inevitable The Arctic will become the new front line The Northern Sea Route will be accessible to everyone Even if you don’t have special icebreakers you’ll be able to take this route It’s only a matter of time I came here at a special moment during the celebration of the tenth anniversary Drinking was not allowed, but we could roast meat on deck While we were crossing the Arctic Ocean, they were roasting shashlik At that moment, it seemed to me that we weren’t in the north but somewhere on the Mediterranean The sea was very calm What I witnessed at the place I visited was very impressive The infrastructure is gigantic The future has already arrived there