The Council approves ten years strategic plan and the incoming Russian chairmanship.

Evgenii Iastrubinskii

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A ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council took place on May 20, in Reykjavik, Iceland. Ministers and Representatives of eight Arctic States and six indigenous Permanent Participant organizations discussed issues relating to international cooperation on sustainable development of the Arctic and the protection of its ecosystem. Near-Arctic States such as China, Japan and others attended the meeting as observers. Upon conclusion, the Council approved its first-ever Strategic Plan, which will lay out a framework for the Council’s agenda in coming next decade. 

This is a significant event for the entire region and the peoples inhabiting it, as it allows for improved interactions between nations in the region as to face emerging challenge with greater cooperation. For example, the Strategic Plan emphasizes that the Arctic Council will: 1) enhance monitoring, assessment, predictions; 2) disseminate data and information on the accelerating effects of climate change in the Arctic; 3) provide Indigenous Peoples’ perspectives on climate change in the Arctic; 4) encourage cooperation on enhancing Arctic meteorological observations and services in order to strengthen understanding of weather and climatic phenomena; 5) encourage timely exchange of information and views; 6) utilize strategic communications tools and mechanisms to enhance awareness of the work of the Council, both within the Arctic region and beyond. This will enable a timely response to address climate issues happening in the region and bring into light that Caribbean and Pacific Island States suffer most because of the Arctic ice melting, sea level rise, rise of temperature and other climate-related disasters.  

All Eyes on Lavrov and Blinken

Despite the importance of the Arctic Council meeting for the rest of the world, it did not receive proper attention and coverage in the mass media, due to the fact that Foreign Ministers of Russia and the US Secretary of State met in Reykjavik at the same time. This was their first meeting since the new White House administration took office. In contrast to the heated summit between the delegations of the United States and China in March 2021, the negotiations between Sergei Lavrov and Antony Blinken were very diplomatic and surprisingly restrained. The parties admitted that their countries have very tense relations with each other and that it is difficult for both sides to find ways to solve the problems that had arisen. 

Continuity or Reform? The Future of the Arctic Council

Nevertheless, both sides expressed their willingness to explore possible venues for cooperation despite serious differences in their views on the international situation. The meeting was preceded with moves that the Biden administration would lift the sanctions against the company Nord Stream 2 AG overseeing the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Nevertheless, the very next day after meeting in Iceland, Washington had announced sanctions against a number of organizations and vessels from Russia involved in the Nord Stream 2 project. “There is nothing surprising about it. For a long time Washington has been saying one thing, but doing the opposite”, said Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. 

The Arctic climate challenges could become that venue for cooperation between Russia and the United States and unite long-term enemies in responding together to common challenges. However, the most likely scenario seems to be in which the United States and Russia will use Arctic for an arms race and a struggle for control over the Northern Sea route. The reason to think so comes from latest comments made by Russian authorities. Prior to the meeting in Iceland Sergei Lavrov had warned Western countries against staking claims in the Arctic, saying that the Arctic is Russian territory, Russian land. Right after the Arctic Council meeting, President Vladimir Putin vowed to ‘knock the teeth out’ of foreign enemies who try to bite off pieces of the country’s vast territory. 

Thus, instead of becoming a venue of opportunities for US-Russia cooperation, the Arctic could once more become a place for the US-Russia rivalry. In the coming days, one can expect news of the US sending military aircrafts to patrol the airspace over the Arctic near the borders of the Russian Federation or sending new US military contingent to Norway and Poland, as a response to the harsh statements made by Russian politicians. After all, some things never change.