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Russia, State Capitalism and Arctic Degradation

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The leaders of the USSR actively pursued Arctic exploration, settlement and resource exploitation. Working with scientists, engineers, settlers and local people, and using gulag labourers, they created the most urban Arctic environment in the world that focused on extractive industries – oil, gas, nickel, platinum, coal and others. Owing to a centrally-planned economy, forced settlement and unwavering determination to harness resources, they faced the constant threat of industrial accidents and pollution-borne illnesses; epidemiological surveys reveal significant life expectancy and infant mortality impacts. The break-up of the USSR left Arctic regions without the extensive subsidies of the Soviet era. But under Vladimir Putin, Russia has again determined to force Arctic development in support of state power. This essay will examine continuity and change in the efforts of Russian leaders from Stalin to Putin to develop rich Arctic resources and establish urban settlements and military bases across the Arctic Circle. It will consider the human and environmental costs of the state-sponsored effort, as well as fledgling efforts at remediation of persistent pollution and social problems.
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Keywords: Arctic; human and environmental costs; planned economy; resource exploitation

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 October 2016

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  • The half-yearly journal Global Environment: A Journal of History and Natural and Social Sciences acts as a forum and echo chamber for ongoing studies on the environment and world history, with special focus on modern and contemporary topics. Our intent is to gather and stimulate scholarship that, despite a diversity of approaches and themes, shares an environmental perspective on world history in its various facets, including economic development, social relations, production government, and international relations.
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