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Russia’s Arctic Symbolism

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Artur Chilingarov, celebrity Duma member, scientist, and Arctic explorer-at-large, has been given an exciting new mission:  to resurrect a ship stranded in the ice of the Arctic Ocean since 1934.  Seems like the Kremlin is eagerly recycling tropes of Soviet propaganda like Hollywood’s intellectual cul-de-sac of movies inspired by 1970s TV shows.  From Andrew Osborn in the Telegraph:

It should come as no surprise then that there has been renewed interest in the fate of the SS Chelyuskin, a Soviet ship that sank in the freezing waters of the Arctic Ocean in 1934 while navigating the North East Passage. The ship was crushed by pack ice but the crew built and rebuilt a rudimentary airstrip on the adjacent ice and were miraculously rescued by plane. Josef Stalin turned the dramatic episode into a major propaganda coup. Mr Chilingarov wants the wreck of the SS Chelyuskin raised from its icy grave and turned into a museum to celebrate the country’s Arctic exploits. Indeed many believe that Russia’s real motivation for exploring the Arctic is the same as the Soviet Union. “While the lure of oil and gas wealth is no doubt attractive, the romantic idea of establishing a hold over new territory and possessing the ocean depths and icy expanses holds greater appeal,” Professor Pavel Baev wrote in a recent Carnegie report. “The constant refrain one hears about the Arctic’s ‘countless resources’ is music to the ears of Russians, whose prosperity depends on the extraction of natural resources. But in reality this refrain simply camouflages the ‘lofty ideal’ of Russian sovereignty over the Arctic.” Despite Mr Putin’s words of reassurance, it seems that for Russia, the battle for the Arctic is well under way.