Who owns the Bering Strait? - 4 September, 2002 - News

The Strait goes first; Alaska is next
Russian-American relations seem to be marred by some problems again. It is one problem, to be more precise. Within the next four months, Russia is going to develop a new variant of the agreement on the Russia-USA border along the Bering and Chuckchee seas.

In 1990, then-Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union Eduard Shevardnadze and US Secretary of State James Baker concluded an agreement, according to which the USSR gave a share of the Bering Strait and the Chuckchee Sea to the USA. As a result, the historic water boundary between Russia and the USA , which was created in 1867 after Alaska was sold, was then changed.

The change, however, produced no sensation in the press in 1990. Publications about the Baker-Shevardnadze agreement considered it as a new step forward in the Russian-American relations. Little importance was attached then to the fact that the agreement prohibited Russian fishermen from entering a 200-mile zone in the Bering Sea. Chairman of the Federation Council Committee for Northern Affairs Alexander Nazarov says that Russia’s annual losses make up $200 million, because America fails to carry out commitments on compensation for fish catchs at the rate of 1.5 million tons.

It was rather unusual, but in 1990, the US Senate immediately approved the agreement concluded by Shevardnadze and Baker, which is very atypical of American senators when relations between the two countries are concerned (revocation of the Jackson-Venik amendment can serve an example here). Russian parliamentarians understood perfectly well that the agreement infringed upon Russia’s interests, which is why the document has never been ratified by the Russian parliament.

According to Nazarov, a group of Russian senators will soon leave for the USA to discuss a new variant of the agreement with their American colleagues. Nazarov says: “The agreement really exists; however, it doesn’t function de facto.” He also says that it is possible to appeal to the court to declare Eduard Shevardnadze’s signature on the 1990 agreement void. “We will consider it as a possible variant if we reach no consensus with the USA concerning a new variant of the agreement.”

Chairman of the Federation Council Committee for International Affairs Mikhail Markelov hopes that the parties will come to a reasonable solution. “Relations with America have become very constructive within the past 1.5 years. Several effective mechanisms for strategic stability, anti-dumping legislation, and other important issues have been developed within this period.”

Why is the Baker –Shevardnadze agreement of 1990 so urgent now? Americans are unlikely to be very happy about any revision of the agreement, as they have other international problems at the moment. Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper) reports, “blaming former Foreign Minister of the USSR Eduard Shevardnadze and the USA for the dishonest annexation of a portion of the Russian seas can be interpreted as an asymmetrical response to the attempts of the Georgian president (Eduard Shevardnadze) to turn Moscow into a geopolitical enemy with strong support from Washington.” Therefore, politics is rather intricate: the problem of the Pankisi Gorge is gradually developing into a problem of the division of water boundaries between Russia and the USA.

Therefore, it is hard to predict to what extent the initiative of Russian senators will prove effective. As of now, it has already won the support on the Kremlin and Russia’s Foreign Ministry. On the one hand, Russia’s initiative doesn’t seem to be very promising, as Russia has little influence to force the USA revise the agreement. On the other hand, there are some ways to influence the US’s decision. Most likely, this analogy isn’t good enough, but let’s remember the situation when the US introduced unfavorable steel tariffs and Russia, in its turn, stopped imports of American poultry. As a result, a compromise was reached between the parties. It is not ruled out that a compromise is possible in this case as well. However, it will be more difficult this time.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/09/04/46595.html

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