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6/30/15 State accepting assistance applications for victims of Sockeye fire

Fire danger remains high

Cooler weather is helping fire crews, and there have been no new evacuations. However 314 fires are burning in Alaska, and fire danger remains high.  Eight fires, consuming 190-thousand acres are burning near the village of Tanana, which is under voluntary evacuation. Those fires are zero percent contained.

The Rex Complex fire  near Anderson, at 16-thousand acres, is 15% contained. 

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State assistance applications available

The Alaska Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management is providing disaster assistance to victims of the Sockeye Fire at the Willow Community Center and Houston Middle school. The centers are accepting applications for state Individual Assistance programs and providing information for other state and non-profit assistance agencies. 

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Medicaid reimbursement rates for providers frozen due to state budget cuts

The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services will not increase rates for Medicaid providers, citing an underfunded budget. The Alaska Dispatch News reports that DHSS says it filed emergency regulations to freeze rates that customarily rise a percentage point or two every year to account for inflation. Starting tomorrow, Alaska's Medicaid program will see a drop of $52 million in state funds.

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Russia’s instability raises concerns about disputes, even war, in the Arctic

By Liz Ruskin, APRN

World leaders, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, have talked of the Arctic as a zone of peace and co-operation. But continued tranquility is just one forecast for the region. Yesterday, Canadian policy scholar who is also a professor at Russia’s Academy of National Economy and Public Administration painted a much darker scenario.

Irvin Studin says competing claims for Arctic resources are inevitable but those conflicts are unlikely to erupt any time soon. In a discussion at the Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank, Studin said he sees a much closer path to conflict in the Arctic, and it starts with Russia, in Europe.

“Near term, and this is my primary message today: Escalation of fighting in Ukraine, or the collapse of Ukraine, or an accident or misread by the West, or the East, or between Russia and Ukraine, might have consequences through the Arctic as a thoroughfare, “he said.

These “consequences” he speaks of are dire.

“The Russians would bomb through the Arctic,” he said. “The rockets would go through the Arctic. I don’t think we’re talking infantry in the first instance. I think these are highly reachable targets for Russian interests.”

Studin says Russians are well aware of the prospect while the U.S., in his view, is oblivious. He says the Ukraine problem can be solved, with neutral peacekeepers and a commitment that Ukraine must never join NATO. But, he warns, the solution has to come in the next six months.

On the Arctic Council, international co-operation remains the operating principal, and Russia is still, by most accounts, working well with the U.S. Coast Guard. Studin says Moscow can strictly adhere to agreements, to what he calls “transactional” co-operation in the Arctic. The professor, though, says that’s just a veneer on Russia’s solid wall of strategic distrust.

“So this can only last so long if the underlying game is incredible,” he said.

Looking ahead, Studin says the government in Russia will change one day, and he cautions the U.S. to stay out of it.

“It is in everybody’s interest that Russia remain stable and that there is a happy succession,” he said. “And let me repeat to my American friends:

there is no necessary condition for this succession, in being happy, to be democratic and in our image, as it were. It just needs to be a stable, happy transition.”

A troubled transition could create a power vacuum, he says, which would be bad for the Arctic and the rest of the world.

“Any collapse of Russia, which is not unthinkable this century, is a hellish proposition,” he said. “It is a century long problem.”

Retired diplomat Kenneth Yalowitz, another participant at the forum, doesn’t see the same conflict points that Studin does. But after hearing the analysis, Yalowitz sounded a bit tenuous in his optimism.

 “You’ve given a lot of reasons why this may not be the case, but my hope is that the very obvious and self-evident reasons for cooperation in the Arctic can have a spillover effect into other areas,” he said.

In the back of the auditorium sat two top-ranking Arctic officials in the State Department: Admiral Robert Papp, the special Arctic representative, and Deputy Assistant Secretary David Balton. Papp called Studin’s perspective a “fascinating alternate view.”

“To get someone who has an inside view of what the Russians are thinking is very helpful to us, and that’s why we attended today,” Papp said.

Papp says for him, it reinforces the need for open communications with the Russians.

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