From Russia With Love
In a move out of the old Cold War playbook, the Russians abruptly and vaguely announced that they needed their icebreakers elsewhere, thus scuttling the venture. "The suspicion is that they canceled [in] 2006 because 2007 was the International Polar Year, and this could be a neat all-Russia project," says Walsh.
In late 2006 the Russians informed McDowell that they wanted to proceed with a 2007 expedition, but that there would be changes. The new expedition leader would be Chilingarov, Putin's appointed representative for the International Polar Year. Dozens of Russian journalists and scientists would now make the trip. McDowell (the logistics) and Paulsen (the money) would still be involved, but all of McDowell's clients were ousted; the expedition was now funded by Paulsen and two Russian politicos.
The twin Russian-piloted Mirs would make only one dive, with one sub carrying Chilingarov and parliamentarian Vladimir Gruzdev, and the other carrying Paulsen and McDowell. "From the Russian perspective, this was a ready-made suit," says Walsh. "You just go grab the package and change the names. I severed my association with it. Once the Russians hijacked it, I wasn't interested."
McDowell, who calls himself a "pragmatist" and continues to have extensive business dealings with the Russians, is more diplomatic. He concedes that "by the time Chilingarov came in, the plan was in place." But he credits the politician both with "cutting through the bureaucratic BS" to secure the icebreakers and with producing investors.
As for whether the tourism component of the trip kept it from amounting to true "exploration," that question was answered in March when the Explorers Club honored McDowell, Paulsen, Chilingarov, and Mir pilot Anatoly Sagalevitch. The club's flag traveled with the expedition to the Pole. "We had to take into account the uniqueness of the expedition," admits Walsh, who sits on the club's Flag & Honors Committee. "No one had ever seen the Pole before, and it'll probably never be done again. Some members may have wondered about it, but no one voted no."