On Tuesday Secretary of State Pompeo will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov in Sochi.
The meeting follows previous talks between the U.S. and Russia, held during the 11th Arctic Council Ministerial in Finland.
Last week, Secretary Pompeo warned against Russia’s aggressive behavior in the Arctic, a region which has plenty of unexploited natural resources such as oil, gas, and rare earth minerals.
Russia is trying to develop a northern route to bypass the Suez and the Panama Canals to ship goods from the Pacific to Europe through the Arctic.
However, the importance of the Arctic region may be overestimated. In fact, most of natural resources in the Arctic Circle are located within the continental shelf of coastal states, such as the United States, Canada, and Russia. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), signed in Montego Bay in 1982, established an exclusive economic zone where coastal states can exploit mineral resources along their continental shelf, up to 200 nautical miles from the shoreline. The United States has never ratified the Montego Bay Convention, but has never challenged its implementation.
The Northern Sea Route, which is impracticable during the winter, requires the use of icebreakers during the summer, which makes the cost of shipping uncompetitive in comparison with other shipping routes, such as the recently expanded Panama Canal and the Suez Canal.
Therefore, the main concern for the United States should be the strategic position of the Arctic and the Russian military presence there, especially the modernization of its Northern Fleet.
Since it is unlikely that Russia will agree to scale back its activities in the Arctic region, the United States should boost its military presence in Greenland, which is a self-governing province of Denmark, a member of NATO. Greenland has a strategic position in the Arctic Circle, and the opening of NATO military bases on the island should be a top priority to guarantee the security of NATO countries.
The meeting in Sochi will also cover the situation in Venezuela, where Russia’s support for Maduro has kept him in power, while the leader of the opposition, Juan Guaido, was recognized by the majority of Western countries.
Pompeo could play the card of Ukrainian adhesion to NATO, which would expand the military alliance eastward to the Russian border, as a bargaining chip to demand that Russia ends its support for the Maduro’s regime. While Pompeo is meeting Lavrov in Sochi, NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg is meeting Ukrainian President Poroshenko in Brussels.
But unlike China, which has kept a balanced approach with Venezuela, keeping the dialogue open with both sides, Russia is betting everything on Maduro, risking to lose its influence in Latin America completely. In fact, if the Maduro regime falls, a domino effect would likely affect his allies, such as Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, which are depending on Venezuela’s economic support. This is a scenario that Russia will certainly oppose.
Arms control is another contentious issue between the USA and Russia since President Trump announced the intention to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, accusing Russia of breaching its provisions.
The Russian and American interests are conflicting in too many areas, so it is unlikely that the meeting in Sochi will generate concrete results, but it can help to ease the tensions between the two countries.
Francesco Stipo is the President of the Houston Energy Club, a member of the National Press Club in Washington D.C., a Fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science, and recently joined the Bretton Woods Committee. Born in Italy in 1973, Dr. Stipo is a naturalized United States citizen. He holds a Ph.D. in International Law and a Master Degree in Comparative Law from the University of Miami. To read more of his reports, Click Here Now.