Florida State University Journal of Transnational Law & Policy


The summer of 1991 will certainly be remembered in the history of the Soviet nation as a crucial period leading to the final disintegration of the Soviet empire. The aborted coup of August 19-21 by the conservatives, immediately followed by Gorbachev's resignation of his post as Secretary-General of the Communist Party, significantly accelerated the reforms in progress in the Soviet Union since Gorbachev's accession to power in 1985. Even the most experienced Sovietologists, if requested to take a stand before those summer events of 1991, would never have dared to envisage 1992 without the Soviet Union. Perestroika and glasnost have also left their marks on Soviet policy with respect to the Arctic. During their first phase, these changes were only reflected in theoretical considerations devoted by the Secretary-General himself to this topic. Little by little, however, this practice started to show some signs of. innovation in a policy which for decades had been shaped around the basic issue of warding off any foreign interference. A Western observer concluded recently: "Even the most visionary of futurists would have been hard pressed to predict such a radical departure from past Soviet approaches to the Arctic Ocean." It is submitted that in this evolution, the year of 1991 played an important role, especially if one focuses on the regime of surface navigation in the Soviet Arctic. This Article intends to substantiate the submission just made. First, a closer look will reveal the internal steps taken by the Soviet Union during that year to open up the Northeast Passage, or Northern Sea Route as it is usually called by the Soviets, to foreign shipping. Second, due attention will be paid to the practice involving a foreign element which occurred during the shipping season of 1991, mainly related to the summer months of that year. Here, different distinctions will be made. First, the initiatives of Soviet shipping companies in order to attract foreign capital will briefly be discussed. The topic of foreign or joint initiatives in the Soviet Arctic will be especially addressed. As will be seen, a division will have to be made between those initiatives which were successful and those which were not. The latter category will receive equal treatment for the simple reason that it will be illustrative of the presence of certain limitations to which this new tendency is still subjected today. In order to have a clear understanding of the issues involved, as well as the importance of the changes envisaged, the regime of navigation in the Soviet Arctic prior to 1991 will be briefly discussed.

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