NEWS: Around the Arctic April 23, 2015 - 11:38 am

Anger over Russia’s Ukraine actions could spill over to Arctic Council

Poll finds desire for co-operation, but Canada may "deliver our tough message"


Will top ministers confront Russia at the April 24 ministerial in Iqaluit about its actions in Ukraine? Or won’t they?

That’s the question circulating the day before the ministers, including United States Secretary of State John Kerry, are set to meet in the Nunavut capital.

“Russia will loom large” at the ministerial meeting, said Sara French, a senior policy analyst at the Gordon Foundation, in a teleconference about the new international poll on Arctic opinion released April 22.

But “there’s a huge desire for co-operation in the Arctic,” she said.

That’s despite Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and its support for pro-Russian separatist fighters in eastern Ukraine, which resulted in a range of economic and diplomatic sanctions imposed last year by the United States, the European Union and Canada, along with a recent statement to CBC radio by Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq, who also will chair the meeting.

Canada will use the ministerial meeting as an opportunity “once again to deliver our tough message to Russia for their aggression against Ukraine,” Aglukkaq said.

If Arctic opinion matters, the 10,000 respondents from the Arctic Council eight member states who participated in the “Rethinking the Top of the World” survey want to see co-operation instead of confrontation.

Despite real concern about security tensions in the Arctic, support for a “firm line” was only endorsed by a minority of respondents in all countries and support for the harder approach has gone down — not up — over the past five years, the pollsters found.

In Russia, only five per cent of those polled said they believed that their country should withdraw from international co-operation in the Arctic.

The survey found only a minority of respondents were supportive of excluding Russia from co-operative Arctic forums, although Sweden and Iceland (44 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively) were most likely to agree that Russia should “withdraw from international co-operation arrangements like the Arctic Council in light of recent developments in Ukraine.”

Two weeks ago it become clear that the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, would not attend the Iqaluit ministerial, but would send Environment Minister Sergei Donskoi in his place.

However, foreign affairs ministers have not always represented Canada at the Arctic Council ministerial meetings either — Canada’s foreign affairs ministers represented Canada at the Arctic Council ministerial meetings in 1998, 2002 and 2009, and other member states have delegated other ministers to represent them at these meetings.