For almost three decades, the Arctic Council has been a successful example of cooperation after the Cold War.
Its eight members, including Russia and the United States, collaborate on climate change research and social development across the ecologically sensitive region.
Now, a year after council members stopped working with Russia following its attack on Ukraine and as Norway prepares to take over the chairmanship from Moscow on May 11, experts are asking whether is the recovery of the polar body at risk if it does not cooperate with the controlling country. more than half of the Arctic coast.
An ineffective Arctic Council could have dire implications for the region’s environment and its 4 million inhabitants, who face the effects of melting sea ice and the interests of non-states in Arctic has the most untapped mineral resources in the region.
The work of the council – which is made up of eight Arctic states of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States – has created agreements in the past to protect and preserve nature.
It is also a unique platform that gives a voice to the Indigenous people of the region. It does not deal with security issues.
But at the end of the cooperation with Moscow, about one-third of the 130 projects of the council were put on hold, new projects could not be continued and existing ones could not be renewed. Western and Russian scientists no longer share findings on climate change, for example, and cooperation on possible search and rescue missions or oil spills has stopped.
“I am concerned that this will hinder the ability of the Arctic Council to work on different issues,” US Senator Angus King from Maine told the Reuters news agency.
A divided region?
The Arctic is warming about four times faster than the rest of the world.
As sea ice disappears, polar waters open up to shipping and other industries eager to exploit the region’s abundant natural resources, including oil, gas, and metals such as gold, iron, and minerals. which is a rare land.
The conflict between Russia and the other members of the Arctic Council means that an effective response to these changes is unlikely.
“Norway has a big challenge,” said John Holdren, co-director of the Harvard Kennedy School’s Arctic Initiative and former science adviser to US President Barack Obama. “That’s how to save as much as possible of the good work of the Arctic Council without Russia.”
Russia argues that this work cannot continue without it.
The council is weakening, Russian Arctic Ambassador Nikolay Korchunov told Reuters, saying he was not confident it would “remain the main platform on Arctic issues”.
Adding to the concerns is the possibility that Russia will go its own way on issues affecting the region or even establish a rival council.
Recently, it has taken steps to expand Arctic cooperation with non-Arctic states. On April 24, Russia and China signed a memorandum establishing cooperation between the coastguards of the Arctic countries.
A few days ago, on April 14, Russia invited China, India, Brazil and South Africa – the BRICS countries – to conduct research in its settlement in Svalbard, an Arctic archipelago under the sovereignty of Norway where other countries could act under the 1920 Treaty.
“Russia is seeking to build relations with some non-Arctic countries, particularly China, and that is a concerning development,” said David Balton, executive director of the White House’s Arctic Steering Committee.
Korchunov said Moscow welcomes non-Arctic states to the region, as long as they don’t come with a military agenda.
“Our focus on a peaceful partnership format also reflects the need to develop scientific and economic cooperation with non-Arctic countries,” he said.
‘I don’t see an Arctic Council without Russia in the future’
Norway said it was “hopeful” a seamless transfer of leadership from Russia could be achieved as it was in the interest of all Arctic states to maintain the Arctic Council.
“We need to protect the Arctic Council as the most important international forum for cooperation in the Arctic and make sure it survives,” Norwegian Deputy Foreign Minister Eivind Vad Petersson told Reuters.
That won’t be easy, given Oslo’s own strained ties to Moscow. In April, Oslo expelled 15 Russian diplomats it said were spies. Moscow denies the accusations, and Korchunov says the expulsions undermine the trust needed for cooperation.
Analysts say NATO member Norway, which shares an Arctic border with Russia, is still well-placed to manage Moscow’s delicate balancing act.
“Norway is the most outspoken when it comes to the possibility of keeping the door open so that Russia can, if politically possible, become part of the Arctic Council again,” said Svein Vigeland Rottem, a senior management researcher. and Arctic security at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute in Oslo.
In fact, lawmaker Aaja Chemnitz Larsen said, the council will eventually have to re-engage with Russia even if that moment has not yet come.
“I don’t see an Arctic Council without Russia in the future,” said Larsen, a Greenland lawmaker in the Danish Parliament and the Chairperson of the Arctic Parliamentarians, a group of MPs from the Arctic countries.
“We must prepare for a different time when war [in Ukraine] one day it will be over,” he said.