With Russia isolated by the invasion of Ukraine, Norway assumed the presidency of the Arctic Council

Morten Høglund is Norway’s ambassador to the Arctic and represents Norway on the Arctic Council as a High Arctic Official (Hilde Bye/High North News)

Norway assumed this Thursday the rotating presidency of the Arctic Council until 2025 with the commitment to reactivate its work but without lifting the isolation of Russia decreed last year by the rest of the members as a result of the military invasion of Ukraine.

“Our aim is for the Arctic Council to resume its important work during the Norwegian presidency. We will explore with the other member states how this can be achieved in practice. Political contact with Russia is not possible but we will remain predictable in our dealings with Russia,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Annika Huitfeldt said in a statement.

Official council meetings were suspended in February 2022, although projects that did not include direct Russian involvement resumed in June. The countries -Canada, Denmark, the United States, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden- They said they would not send representatives to council meetings in Russia – the world’s largest Arctic state – although they remained convinced of the value of Arctic cooperation.

Norway assumed the presidency precisely at the hands of Russia in a digital meeting held between representatives of the eight countries that make it up – all NATO members except Russia and Sweden, whose entry into the Alliance was approved last June and is awaiting to be formalized – and six organizations of indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

Research involving Russia, ranging from climate work to mapping polar bears, has been put on hold, and scientists have lost access to important facilities in the Russian Arctic.

The Arctic Council, which covers an area in which more than 4 million people live, it is one of the only places where Russia sits at the same table as Western countries.

During the two years of Russia’s presidency, the Arctic Council faced the biggest threat to its existence since its creation in 1996.

Patrol on the Norwegian border with Russia in Kirkenes (Annika Byrde/NTB via REUTERS)
Patrol on the Norwegian border with Russia in Kirkenes (Annika Byrde/NTB via REUTERS) (NTB/)

This could have an impact on the Arctic environment, with melting sea ice and interest from non-Arctic countries in the vast region’s largely undeveloped mineral resources. The region could also see new naval passages and new opportunities for trade, as the travel time for ships between Asia and the West could be greatly reduced.

The Danish Minister for Foreign Affairs, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, recently stated that the Council “limps a bit. But there really is no alternative.”

“It is a huge challenge for Norway. They have to isolate Russia and at the same time make sure they don’t provoke Russia into dissolving the Council,” he said. Rasmus Gjedsso Bertelsenfrom the Norwegian Arctic University in Tromsoe.

The Arctic Council has served as a forum that works by consensus and in which all kinds of issues except military ones are discussed.

The member countries agreed on Thursday a joint declaration in which they recognize the “unique” and “historic” role of this body to promote constructive cooperation and stability and dialogue in the Arctic region.

The document also recognizes the commitment to work for the protection and consolidation of the council, as well as the rights of the indigenous peoples of the area and the importance of cross-border cooperation.

Huitfeldt stressed that the Norwegian presidency’s main priorities are the oceans, the climate and the environment, sustainable economic development and the peoples of the Arctic.

Gjedsso BertelsenFor his part, he feared that indigenous peoples could “lose an important forum and prominent platform”, adding that many of the groups are cross-border organizations and do not follow national borders.

Several countries such as France, Germany, China, Japan, India and Korea attend Arctic Council meetings as observers.which means that international politics is another challenge for the Norwegian presidency, he told the news agency PA.

An expert in security policy in the polar regions, dwayne ryan menezeswarned that with the arrival of Norway to power, the problems of the forum will not disappear.

The Scandinavian country “clearly recognizes the challenges ahead, especially regarding the future of Arctic cooperation through the Arctic Council at a time when cooperation with Russia remains suspended,” he said.

“But it will make it possible for most member states to return to a close working relationship with the presidency, which will help the forum’s work of promoting cooperation and coordination,” he said.

Scientists drive their snowmobiles across the arctic towards Kongsfjord at sunset near Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway (REUTERS/Lisi Niesner)
Scientists drive their snowmobiles across the arctic towards Kongsfjord during sunset near Ny-Alesund, Svalbard, Norway (REUTERS/Lisi Niesner) (LISI NIESNER/)

“Norway will continue to focus on the fundamental issues that the Council is addressing, including the effects of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to improve the well-being of people living in the region,” Huitfeldt said.

Huitfeldt promised to “resume his important work during the Norwegian Presidency. Together with the other Member States, we will now explore how to achieve this in practice.”

Formally, the 13th meeting of the Arctic Council was held in Salekhard (Russia), but unlike 2021, when the Icelandic foreign minister handed over a wooden hammer to his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov As Iceland passed the baton of the presidency, Thursday’s attendees were the ambassadors of the participating countries in the Arctic – not the foreign ministers – who met in an online event.

A statement was issued at that meeting “acknowledging the historic and unique role of the Arctic Council for constructive cooperation, stability and dialogue among the peoples of the Arctic region.” But Ukraine was not mentioned.

(With information from EFE and AP)

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