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Kennesaw State researcher looking at Russian economic expansion in the Arctic

  • June 24, 2021


(Jun 24, 2021)
— Research being conducted this summer by Kennesaw State University political science professor Thomas Rotnem could shape how the U.S. and other nations conduct foreign
policy with Russia.

As a Kennan Institute Summer Research Scholar, Rotnem is looking at Russia’s ambitious
economic development plans in the Arctic, including development of the Northern Sea
Route through the Arctic Ocean. The Washington, D.C.-based institute, which is an
integral part of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, has been a
leading center of research on Russia and the former Soviet Union since 1968.

In the wake of President Biden’s one-day summit last week with Russian President Vladimir
Putin, Rotnem said the rival nations have a history of cooperation in the Arctic,
which might help the countries improve strained relations now.

“The Arctic has been an area of cooperation on a lot of levels,” said Rotnem, who
is associate director of the Kennesaw State School of Government and International Affairs. “In fact, the U.S. just recently signed an agreement with Russia over shipping and
transit in the Bering and Beaufort seas. It’s proven both sides can talk about important
things and find a solution.”

Rotnem’s Kennan Institute inquiry focuses on Russia’s economic development plans —
financed in part by China — to develop the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean,
a key to increasing export of natural resources. Russia is working to increase sale
of liquified natural gas, oil and other resources and is building out railroads, roads,
and river projects in Siberia to make that possible. The effort is part of a 15-year
plan put forth last October. China has emerged as an investment partner in the Arctic
because it is flush with cash, while Russia is much weaker economically, Rotnem said.

Thomas Rotnem

Rotnem’s research is looking at how widespread economic development will impact the
indigenous and other people already living in the Russian north, as well as the environment.
While there are extensive sources of information on the Northern Sea Route plans and
the feeder transportation networks, a challenge is in finding local adverse reactions
to these monumental development efforts.

“Even in the regional newspapers, there’s not a hint of opposition,” Rotnem said.
“So I have had to resort to social media — particularly Russian-language sources using
the Telegram app — to follow Arctic-related and indigenous people-related channels.
I see a lot more criticism there than I see in the official media.”

When the two-month research project is over, Rotnem will present his findings in August,
at both the WWICS and through various outlets at the Kennan Institute.

Rotnem’s research is ongoing amid the backdrop of Biden engaging with Putin. Both
sides, Rotnem said, have made public statements about the importance of fighting climate
change. Melting permafrost is having effects on both countries, and the two nations
could cooperate to slow or reverse the effects of climate change.

Another area where the two nations can become more cooperative in the Arctic is military
communications, Rotnem said. Since the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 — a move
strongly opposed by the U.S. and its Western allies — military-to-military communications
that used to be routine between the two nations have discontinued.

“There’s so much military activity on both sides in the Arctic now that they really
need to be talking and have established communications,” Rotnem said. “Otherwise there
could be an unfortunate incident that could have unforeseen consequences.”

– Gary Tanner

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers close to 200 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit

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