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Cablegate: Russia's Chukotka Region Yearns for a Beringia Park and An

VZCZCXRO4304
RR RUEHAST RUEHDH RUEHHM RUEHLN RUEHMA RUEHPB RUEHPOD RUEHSL RUEHTM
RUEHTRO
DE RUEHMO #2538/01 2801308
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071308Z OCT 09
FM AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 5016
INFO RUEHLN/AMCONSUL ST PETERSBURG 5492
RUEHVK/AMCONSUL VLADIVOSTOK 3368
RUEHYG/AMCONSUL YEKATERINBURG 3722
RUEHC/DEPT OF INTERIOR WASHDC
RUEHZN/ENVIRONMENT SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COLLECTIVE
RUEAEPA/HQ EPA WASHDC
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCPDC/NOAA WASHDC
RHFJBRQ/NSF POLAR WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 MOSCOW 002538

STATE FOR EUR/RUS, OES/PCI, EUR/PGI, L/CA
AIDAC STATE FOR USAID/E&E
INTERIOR FOR KIM MAGRAW
INTERIOR PLEASE PASS TO NPS, FWS, AND USGS
FWS FOR STEVE KOHL, JANET HOHN, GEOFF HASKETT
NPS FOR SUE MASICA
NOAA FOR RENEE TATUSKO
OSTP FOR JOAN ROLF

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL SENV CVIS ECON TSPL SOCI RS
SUBJECT: RUSSIA'S CHUKOTKA REGION YEARNS FOR A BERINGIA PARK AND AN
ECONOMIC BOOST FROM ALASKA

REF: A. MOSCOW 1281
B. VLADIVOSTOK 32

MOSCOW 00002538 001.2 OF 004


SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED -- PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY.

1. (U) SUMMARY: The Russian government is advocating for stronger
economic, scientific, and cultural ties between its easternmost
province of Chukotka and Alaska (ref A). The poster child for these
aspirations, a "shared heritage area" -- in effect, a bilateral
national parks partnership -- spanning the Bering Strait region, was
among the topics of discussion at this year's sparsely attended
"Beringia Days" conference in Chukotka's capital, Anadyr. The
Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology optimistically predicts it
will be ready to negotiate a bilateral agreement on the protected
territory by March 2010, but the Russian government must leap
several bureaucratic hurdles to establish federal park lands to
contribute to the project. In addition, some Alaska native groups
oppose the plan, fearing a loss of land use rights.

2. (U) SUMMARY, continued: Although underpinned by strong shared
indigenous ethnic ties, wildlife, environment, and even history,
Chukotka-Alaska links are currently tenuous and fraught with
logistical, linguistic, and bureaucratic obstacles. Among the most
difficult impediments are barriers to travel. A limited visa-free
regime for certain Bering Strait native groups has never functioned
smoothly, and traveling to a U.S. consular office is often
prohibitively expensive for Chukotkans requiring U.S. visas.
Chukotka's Deputy Governor downplayed the bureaucratic difficulties
in resolving these issues. He echoed the Foreign Ministry's call
for improved transportation links and infrastructure, as well as
expanding the existing visa-free regime to all permanent residents
of Alaska and Chukotka. As an alternative to expanded visa-free
travel, he suggested establishing a U.S. consular presence in
Chukotka. END SUMMARY.

--------------------------------------------- --
"BERINGIA DAYS" PROMISE WAITING TO BE FULFILLED
--------------------------------------------- --

3. (U) On September 17-21, Embassy representatives visited Russia's
easternmost province of Chukotka to attend the annual Beringia Days
conference in the regional capital, Anadyr. First held in 1996, the
conference gives government officials, scientists, NGOs, and native
groups a forum to share information and develop projects of regional
interest. Many projects discussed at the conference are funded by
the National Park Service's Shared Beringian Heritage Program.
Anchorage hosted the conference until 2003; since that time, the
venue has alternated annually between Chukotka and Alaska. In
Anadyr, a city of only 11,000 residents, Beringia Days qualifies as
a major event. However, the conference made only a small splash.
We saw no public advertising for it, and attendance was sparse, with
barely 50 observers in the conference auditorium at any one time.

4. (U) This year's U.S. delegation of approximately 25 included
students, academic researchers, and officials of the National Park
Service and Fish and Wildlife Service. Presentations highlighted
diverse research on native cultures, geology, history, and ecology.
Some speakers presented oral histories of cross-border indigenous
families; another reported on traditional native dress. There was
even a presentation on the cultural significance of mushrooms. But
ironically, for a conference designed to highlight and promote
cross-border connections, very few presentations touched on
U.S.-Russian cooperation. An Alaska-based geologist concluded his
report on the evolution of Arctic landforms with an appeal for
Russian collaboration. He later told ESTOff that in his many years
of research, he has never worked with Russian counterparts on this
regional topic. The director of Chukotka's Department of Culture,
Sport, Tourism, and Public Affairs told us that while the territory
has regular sports exchanges with Canada, there is no such exchange
with the United States to speak of, and several attempts by Chukotka
officials to reach out to American counterparts on proposed
exchanges have had no results.

MOSCOW 00002538 002.2 OF 004

--------------------------------------------- ---
VISAS AND OTHER TRAVEL HURDLES LIMIT COOPERATION
--------------------------------------------- ---

5. (U) Several conference participants and regional officials cited
visa difficulties as barriers to closer contact. To obtain a U.S.
visa, most Chukotka residents must fly to either Vladivostok or
Moscow for an interview. Flights to Vladivostok run only every two
weeks, or more rarely, depending on weather. The cost of the
nine-hour flight to Moscow, currently around $1800, is prohibitively
expensive for most Russian students, scientists, and local
officials.

6. (U) Dora Poluksht, the director of Chukotka's regional education
department, told us that high school exchanges have a bleak future
if travel between Chukotka and Alaska is not simplified. An
Anchorage high school recently invited Chukotka students to visit
Alaska as part of a school partnership program, and students even
raised money to cover airfare. But the Russian students were forced
to cancel their trip because of the expense of obtaining a visa.

7. (U) Some travelers can cross the Alaska-Chukotka border without
visas, at least in theory. The 1989 U.S.-USSR Agreement on Mutual
Visits by Inhabitants of the Bering Straits Region provided a means
for members of specific ethnic groups residing in designated
districts of Alaska and Chukotka to travel visa-free to qualifying
districts across the border. The agreement was intended to
facilitate family and cultural links among Beringia's indigenous
peoples. However, according to several conference participants and
as earlier reported by Consulate General Vladivostok (ref B), the
travel procedures have never operated smoothly.

8. (U) The original Bering Straits Agreement requires eligible
travelers from both the United States and Russia to provide at least
ten days' advance notice of visa-free travel and to carry an insert
in their passports certifying permanent residence in one of the
qualifying districts. In 1991, the two sides amended the agreement
so that qualifying Alaska residents could travel to Chukotka with
passport stamps instead of inserts. However, Russian border guards
have not accepted passport stamps, thereby shutting down visa-free
travel to the designated Russian areas by eligible Alaska natives.
One Alaska native at the Beringia Days conference recounted a visit
to Chukotka earlier this year in which border guards detained her
delegation for five hours due to alleged problems with their travel
documents. She did not say whether the dispute concerned the
passport stamp mentioned above. Many Chukotka residents, on the
other hand, have followed these procedures and visited Alaska
without incident, according to conference participants. Our MFA
contacts and Chukotka's deputy governor have told us that problems
have arisen for U.S. travelers because the USG has never fully
complied with the procedures under the Bering Straits Agreement (see
para. 16).

9. (U) Aside from the problem of travel documents, logistics also
present obstacles. There are no regularly scheduled commercial
flights between Chukotka and Alaska, although the Alaska-based
carrier Bering Air provides charter flights from Nome. In addition,
Chukotka remains a restricted territory. American visitors, as well
as Russians not permanently resident in Chukotka, must obtain a
special permit from the Russian federal government in order to
visit. The permit -- which requires an invitation from a
Chukotka-based entity at least 30 days in advance of travel, or 40
days for non-Russians -- introduces further delay and complication
into an already complicated process.

10. (U) The Foreign Ministry has urged the USG to help establish
direct mail links between Chukotka and Alaska (ref A). Prominent
Chukotkan dogsled racer Nikolai Ettyne told us in Anadyr that this
is necessary, because even something as simple as sending a letter
between Chukotka and Alaska is a risky undertaking. Ettyne told us
that he missed an important deadline recently when sending an

MOSCOW 00002538 003.2 OF 004


express mail package through the Russian mail system from Chukotka
to Alaska, because the package was delayed several days, being
routed first through Moscow and Western Europe before reaching the
United States.

--------------------------------------------- --
BERINGIA PARK NOT READY FOR PUBLIC ANNOUNCEMENT
--------------------------------------------- --

11. (U) The poster child for closer Alaska-Chukotka ties is a
"Beringia Shared Heritage Area" -- in effect, a bilateral national
parks partnership, consisting of pre-existing protected nature
territories on either side of the Bering Strait. The United States
and the Soviet Union first jointly resolved to create a "U.S.-Soviet
International Park" at a presidential summit in 1990, but the idea
ran into snags on both the U.S. and Russian sides. One of the chief
impediments on the Russian side has been the absence of a federally
protected territory to contribute to the project.

12. (SBU) On September 14, Aleksey Troitskiy of the Ministry of
Natural Resources and Ecology (MNRE) told us that plans are
proceeding apace to transfer Russia's existing Beringia
Nature-Ethnic Park, located in Chukotka, from regional to federal
jurisdiction. Troitskiy said that feasibility studies on the
proposal should be completed by year's end, and interagency approval
of a federal management structure for the park will likely take an
additional three months. He estimated that by the end of March
2010, Russia would be ready to negotiate a bilateral agreement
establishing the Shared Heritage Area.

13. (SBU) In Anadyr, the director of the regional Beringia
Nature-Ethnic Park, Natalya Kalyuzhina, explained the park's
background and preparations for the transfer to federal authority.
Russia established the park in 1993 as its contribution to a future
international territory. But the park remained under regional
jurisdiction due to the intervention of local authorities, which at
that time were much more powerful and independent than today.
Because the park was always intended to be temporary, it has few of
the trappings of a full-fledged park. It has no visitor center and
no regular scientific activity aside from staffers' daily diaries of
observations of flora, fauna, and weather patterns. Authorities are
reluctant to add to its budget. The park employs 22 staffers,
including 15 inspectors who have no authority to enforce park
protection regulations. If they discover violations, they must
contact regional authorities, who in turn dispatch enforcement
agents.

14. (SBU) The regional park covers 135,000 contiguous square miles.
But the federal government's current plan calls for contributing
less than one-tenth of that land to the Shared Heritage Area.
MNRE's notional map shows 15 disconnected plots, totaling 11,600
square miles, scattered along the Bering Strait and Bering Sea
coastline. MNRE told us that this plan remains under discussion and
could change before the government completes its feasibility
studies. Natalya Kalyuzhina said that the notion of fragmenting the
territory makes no sense, given the logistical difficulty of
traveling among the separate areas.

--------------------------------------------- -----
DEPUTY GOVERNOR PUSHES "TOTAL DEVELOPMENT PACKAGE"
--------------------------------------------- -----

15. (SBU) On September 19, Chukotka's recently appointed Deputy
Governor, Leonid Gorenshteyn, told us that the regional government
is working with Moscow on a broad set of economic priorities under
Chukotka's strategic development plan, which President Medvedev
approved in 2008. As Gorenshteyn described them to us, the
priorities substantially parallel the Bering Strait cooperation
proposals that MFA's U.S. bilateral affairs director, Alexander
Zakharov, presented to the Embassy on April 17 (ref A). The
proposals include expanding the existing Bering Strait visa-free
travel regime to all permanent residents of Alaska and Chukotka,

MOSCOW 00002538 004.2 OF 004


creating the Beringia Shared Heritage Area, and boosting economic
ties through improved travel and postal infrastructure. Gorenshteyn
also suggested that the United States and Russia conclude new Bering
Straits Agreements to reflect new realities. However, he did not
indicate what elements of the two original 1989 agreements should be
changed.

16. (SBU) ESToff asked Gorenshteyn how it is possible to implement,
let alone expand, visa-free travel between Alaska and Chukotka when
even Russian citizens still require special permission to enter
Chukotka, and when visiting Alaskan delegations are detained while
trying to take advantage of visa-free travel. Gorenshteyn
downplayed the problems, saying that the procedures are workable as
long as travelers follow them. He alleged that the United States
has never fully complied with the established procedure under the
Bering Straits Agreement. He suggested, as an alternative, that the
United States establish a consular presence in Chukotka. He noted
that local residents who need to travel to the United States with a
visa find it exceedingly difficult to do so because of the time and
expense of traveling to Vladivostok or Moscow for an interview.

17. (SBU) ESToff remarked that proposals for improved transportation
infrastructure, including regular commercial flights between
Chukotka and Alaska, would not be workable without a stronger
economic basis. (Note: Bering Air canceled its regularly scheduled
service between Alaska and Chukotka some years ago, reportedly
because of poor profitability. A State of Alaska official told us
that requests for bribes by Chukotka transportation officials also
played a role in the decision. END NOTE.)

-------
COMMENT
-------

18. (SBU) Chukotka's 50,000 residents have very limited
transportation links with the rest of Russia. They are virtually
salivating at the prospect of receiving an economic boost from their
proximity to Alaska to attract investment and tourism, as well as to
cross the Bering Strait themselves for exchange visits, educational
and scientific cooperation, and tourism. The key, most say, is to
simplify travel across the Bering Strait. The reality, however, is
that Chukotka is a sparsely populated region whose economic
circumstances, although improving, are still poor. It is difficult
to imagine that Russia's Federal Security Service would accept the
idea of dropping the visa requirement for all Alaska residents,
although the MFA has assured us it will happen if the U.S. agrees.

BEYRLE

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