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Putin Orders Arctic Cleanup

RIA-Novosti / APPutin listening to an explanation near the worlds northernmost border checkpoint on Carl Alexander Island.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin ordered a cleanup of Russia's polluted Arctic territories on a recent visit to the region, where he also helped scientists track polar bears.

Distressed by the refuse left behind fr om military and other outposts, Putin called for the removal of thousands of fuel barrels left from Soviet times that litter the icy region.

"They leak and go into the soil," he said. "We need to organize not just a subbotnik, but a voskresnik, and will have to do some work on the other days of the week too," he said, suggesting that the Soviet-era tradition wh ereby a community pitches in to clean up its neighborhood on Saturday be extended to Sunday as well.

But while the trip highlighted environmental issues, Putin made no secret about Russia having big development plans in the region. "We have naval bases here, an interest in extracting natural resources and in important transportation routes. Many, many interests," Putin said in a video recorded by the Russian Geographical Society.

Putin visited Franz Josef Land, an archipelago in the Barents Sea, on April 16, prior to holding several meetings to discuss the fish industry in Murmansk, local television reported.

The trip coincided with an expedition to tag polar bears financed by the Russian Geographical Society, said Yekaterina Popova, the society's spokeswoman.

Last November, Putin became head of the Russian Geographical Society's board of trustees, saying at the time that the society could offer practical support in the government's plans to develop the Arctic and promising to allocate 50 million rubles ($1.7 million) for the organization's research.

Footage of Putin's visit was held until several days after President Dmitry Medvedev said Thursday on a visit to Norway that Russia had reached a deal with its neighbor over divvying up control over areas of the Arctic shelf. The deal, which brought an end to a 20-year dispute, will regulate fishing and drilling on the shelf. No details of the agreement have yet been disclosed.

In a sign of Russia's intentions to continue heavy development in the region, Russia tapped Norway's Statoil to provide the necessary expertise to develop the Prirazlomnoye oil field, in the Barents Sea.

"Putin's visit is a sort of symbol that Russia will pay more attention to Arctic nature, but with the coming development of the region, it's important that we don't add new problems to old ones," said Viktor Nikiforov, an Arctic expert at the World Wildlife Fund.

Putin, a well-known lover of wild animals, participated in the geographical society's expedition to tag polar bears and even collared one himself.

"It's a heavy paw. The master of the Arctic," Putin said as he shook the paw of a sedated bear, after helping scientists attach a satellite tag.

This wasn't the first time Putin has tamed nature: In August 2008, he participated in a similar expedition to tag Ussuri tigers — a trip he saved from almost certain disaster by tranquilizing a tiger that had escaped from its leash. He then helped tag the cat, after giving it a kiss on the cheek.

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