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This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows a Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet jet escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear heavy bomber out of Canadian airspace. (The Canadian Press)
This undated file photo provided by the U.S. Air Force shows a Canadian Air Force F-18 Hornet jet escorting a Russian TU-95 Bear heavy bomber out of Canadian airspace. (The Canadian Press)

Russian envoy blames tough talk from Tories on Cold War 'inertia' Add to ...

A senior Russian diplomat says the Conservative government's pointed public criticisms of his country's motives in the Arctic are not grounded in reality.

Russia's ambassador-at-large for Arctic issues, Anton Vasiliev, fired back Thursday at the frequent complaints that Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his cabinet ministers have levelled at Russia for what they see as provocative behaviour in the Arctic.

That has included former foreign minister Lawrence Cannon blasting a planned Russian parachute jump that was to take place in April 2010 as a "stunt" and an exercise in "propaganda."

"It could come from lack of knowledge of reality," Mr. Vasiliev told The Canadian Press during a major conference on Canada-Norway-Russia Arctic co-operation at Ottawa's Carleton University. "I think that time and reality proves that this is all wrong."

In an earlier speech to about 100 academics, diplomats and bureaucrats, Mr. Vasiliev extolled the exemplary relationship between Russia and Norway, which recently settled a 40-year Arctic border dispute.

He called it an "encouraging precedent" for Russia and Canada. The two countries disagree over the undersea boundaries of the Arctic Ocean, which is thought to hold massive deposits of oil and gas.

"Russia and Canada are natural partners in the Arctic. We have a good and dynamic relationship. But its potential is enormous," Mr. Vasiliev told the conference.

In a later interview, Mr. Vasiliev addressed the public criticism of his country by the Conservative government. This includes Mr. Cannon's April, 2010, outburst and others, as well as complaints by Defence Minister Peter MacKay about Russian bombers flights near Canadian Arctic airspace and Mr. Harper's own rebuke of those flights.

"Why do we still hear that? Because of inertia," Mr. Vasiliev said. "We are human people. It's very hard for us to change our mentality, to adapt ourselves to the changing world, but we have to do that because the world has changed."

He described his work as Russia's envoy to the eight-country Arctic Council, which includes Canada, as "a counter-argument to these skeptics."

Russia also angered Canada when a submarine bearing its scientists planted a flag on the seabed under the North Pole in 2007.

Norway's deputy foreign minister Espen Barth Eide said the incident was overblown and suggested Canada shouldn't take offence.

"It wasn't really Russia; it was a Russian scientist," Mr. Barth Eide said in an interview.

"There has been no follow-up claim ... the moon isn't American because there's an American flag up there."

Mr. Barth Eide said his country's historic Barents Sea border agreement - four decades in the making -should be taken by Canada as reason to tone down its rhetoric towards Russia.

He said Russian co-operation in the Arctic can help defuse tension that it has had with the West in recent years on other strategic issues.

"It is an area where we see the benign side of Russia and where we see the collaborative Russia. It can become a buffer," Mr. Barth Eide said.

Mr. Vasiliev suggested Canada's politicians might be trying to score points at home by attacking his country's motives in the Arctic.

"My vision is it's mostly domestic. I can't judge your politicians by what they say, about this thing. Our politicians say the Arctic is becoming more and more a territory of dialogue, a territory of co-operation. This is a drastic change compared with the Cold War years."

Countries have a right to deploy military resources in the Arctic, but that doesn't mean there's a nefarious military build-up, he said.

"If before there was zero and now (there) is one gun, is that a build-up? I don't think so. Every Arctic state has a right to defend their sovereignty.

"We don't think we have any military problems in the Arctic or other problems that might require military solutions. We don't see any need for the presence of any military political blocs in the Arctic."

He said Russia agrees with Canada's Arctic strategy, which is a pillar of its foreign policy. Along with economic and regional development, the strategy includes a greater military presence as well as the eventual construction and deployment of an ice-breaker.

"We really need some more hardware in the Arctic, for example, for some new types of activities that come from more accessible Arctic resources."

Mr. Vasiliev lauded this month's historic agreement by Arctic Council members to co-ordinate search-and-rescue activities. He said it was an example of how Russia wants to work within legal frameworks to solve disputes.

"There are remaining problems of course. All the problems will be solved the same way - no blood, no conflict, professional quiet work on the basis of international law. Full stop. And we shall do it."

In his speech, Mr. Vasiliev made only a vague passing reference to the tension between Canada and Russia.

He said the renewed co-operation between Norway and Russia was a benefit for greater Arctic security.

"I'm not pointing the fingers," Mr. Vasiliev told delegates.

"I hope all these and other achievements should persuade even the few, hardest skeptics, who can't detach themselves from the Cold War clichés, and who still look for nothing else but the military build-up and the inevitable wars."

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