Russia and the United States have begun implementing plans, initiated during the Soviet era, to launch the trans-border Beringia National Park spanning eastern Chukotka in the Russian Far East and the U.S. state of Alaska, a Russian business daily said on Wednesday.
The project was first discussed in June 1990 by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George Bush Sr., during the thaw in U.S.-Soviet relations. However, talks ground to a halt after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Now Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and U.S. President Barack Obama have decided to re-launch the 20-year-old idea, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Kommersant.
"We have reached a stage of inter-governmental agreement with the U.S. side. The project needs political support. We are drawing up a schedule with the United States," Ryabkov said.
The nature reserve would cover millions of hectares and preserve the region's unique flora and fauna, in particular sea mammals, brown bears and numerous bird species.
"The creation of the Beringia national park on Russian and U.S. territory is a project that allows us to establish an eco-tourism zone through minimal investment," Ryabkov said. "We plan to establish air links, as well as the necessary transport infrastructure."
The Russian foreign ministry has proposed introducing a visa-free regime for all residents of Chukotka and Alaska as part of the project, the paper said. Currently only indigenous peoples of the region are allowed to travel without visas across the U.S.-Russian border on the Bering Strait.
Chukotka does not currently have a national park and one would have to be created before the joint project can be implemented, Deputy Head of environmental protection at the Russian Natural Resources Ministry Amirkhan Amirkhanov said. He added that all bureaucratic procedures connected with the creation of this park, which will span an area of 1.8 million hectares, should be completed by the end of the year.
This is not Russia's first joint national park with a neighboring state. Currently it runs a trans-border reserve with China on Lake Hanka, the Dauria International Protected Area with China and Mongolia, and the Russian-Finnish Friendship reserve.
MOSCOW, August 25 (RIA Novosti)
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