Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on Wednesday (17 September) announced his country's intention to fix its Arctic borders along the continental shelf, with the aim of turning the region into a resource base for Moscow in the 21st century. Moscow says its continental shelf extends along the Lomonosov Ridge, a mountain chain underneath the Arctic. The claim has been rejected by Western countries.
The five states bordering the Arctic – Russia, Canada, the USA, Norway and Denmark - have promised to resolve their ownership claims at the United Nations, and have until May 2009 to register their positions.
But Russia's recent approach is a policy of "fait accompli", Poignant warns. "I don't like this Russian flag on the bottom of the North Pole," he said, referring to last year's symbolic placing of a Titanium Russian flag on the seabed under the North Pole by a Russian mini-submarine.
Poignant believes the EU has a role to play in the Arctic region, but that it will have to act via a limited number of countries due to Moscow's ability to conduct divisive policies with the EU 27. In other words, the format of the 27 member states will not succeed, says Poignant, who is a member of the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee.
The French Socialist also sees Russian policies in the context of a country feeling surrounded as a result of the neo-conservative policies of the current US administration.
"The Russians don't like to have the American army too close to them, like in Georgia. When we look at the Black Sea and we see Turkey, a NATO member, controlling the straits, Bulgaria and Romania as NATO members, Ukraine and Georgia who want to become NATO members, one also has to see what still remains as the Black Sea shore for Russia," Poignant says, warning of a possible war in the Crimea similar to the recent conflict in Georgia.
Poignant, who is an historian by training, recalls that the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev made the historic mistake of donating Crimea to Ukraine. Now Russia rents the naval base of Sevastopol from the country, but the lease contract expires in 2017 and the Russians do not want to take any chances, especially if Ukraine becomes a NATO member.
"The Ukrainians could be more active in pushing for EU accession and less for NATO membership," Poignant advises.
The French MEP sees some chance of the international climate improving following the US elections, but does not expect the improvements to be fast. In his words, "the president may change, but the structural policies [of the United States] do not change so much".