Arctic Council resumes work on limited scale, without Russia

The Russian Federation holds the presidency for the council from 2021-23.

Arctic Council nations meet in May 2021. Seven of the eight member nations have jointly announced they will be resuming some work without Russia. (Screenshot courtesy of Arctic Council)

By Meral Jamal

The Arctic Council is resuming work on a limited scale — but Russia won’t be allowed to participate.

Seven of the eight member states, including Canada, announced earlier this month in a joint statement that Russia will not be a part of future meetings and projects due to its war against Ukraine that started in February.

The Russian Federation holds the presidency for the council from 2021 to 2023.

The move to start work again follows a March 3 statement from the council that noted the “grave impediments to international co-operation, including in the Arctic, that Russia’s actions have caused.”

Global Affairs Canada spokesman Jason Kung said each member state sticks to that position.

“The core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, based on international law, have long underpinned the work of the Arctic Council, a forum which Russia currently chairs,” Kung said in an email.

The seven Arctic Council nations other than Russia made the decision without consulting the council’s other permanent participants, the six Indigenous groups in the forum, according to James Stotts, head of the Inuit Circumpolar Council delegation to the Arctic Council.

“We were notified after they made their decisions,” he said.

“We don’t like it that we weren’t consulted.”

Stotts added that within his organization, “not everybody is in agreement, I think, on reopening the Arctic Council right now — or even in a limited way.”

And, he said, it’s not clear how activities can resume without Russia: “There are more questions than answers with what’s going on now for us.”

Established in 1996, the Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum that aims to strengthen co-operation, co-ordination and interaction between Arctic nations, Arctic Indigenous peoples and other Arctic inhabitants on common issues in the region.

The council currently has more than 100 projects underway to address the most pressing issues, including climate change, biodiversity and economic development.

According to Kung, projects included in the work plan approved by all eight Arctic states in 2021 “are a vital component of our responsibility to the people of the Arctic, including Indigenous Peoples.”

He did not provide further information about how specific working groups within the council — including the sustainable development working group, chaired by Russia, as well as the Arctic contaminants action program and the protection of Arctic marine environment working group — will be impacted by the decision.

— With files from Arctic Today

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(4) Comments:

  1. Posted by Huh? on

    That’s a little rich for ICC to complain about not being consulted. James Stotts has been president of ICC Alaska for decades, a position that he is not democratically elected into and which has no term limit (maybe ICC has more in common with Russia than it thinks). Because of its governance structure, ICC cannot and is not held accountable by the people it supposedly represents. It is the same for ICC Greenland – no term limit, no democratic process for choosing its leadership. If ICC wants to be taken seriously, it should become a more democratic organization.

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  2. Posted by Louise Manga on

    Russia should have been allowed to participate in the Arctic Council. The issues of climate change, biodiversity, and indigenous people and the cooperation of Arctic nations should not be sacrificed for a conflict between Russia and Ukraine that should have been solved through negotiation. Our northern peoples and Arctic region deserve full participation of all the Arctic countries to deal with problems affecting them all.

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    • Posted by Observer on

      So, what level of genocide and war crimes would you consider too much to be acceptable to polite society?

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  3. Posted by Louise Manga on

    I can only wonder if the Arctic Council is perhaps not a very important organization if it feels it can resume without Russia participating. Of the 8 countries making up the Arctic Council, Russia controls the major share of the Arctic coastline, resources and population. Similarly is the work of some of the working groups not so effective or relevant that they can be put on hold because of a war in Ukraine?
    The war in Ukraine need never have happened. It could have been prevented through diplomacy and realpolitik. In 2014 the Euromaidan demonstrations turned violent and caused the democratically elected president to flee the country (check out American support for the demonstrations). The predominantly Russian speaking regions in the east and south wanted more autonomy and language rights within Ukraine. Granting of some regional autonomy and language rights to the predominantly Russian speaking areas of the south and east of Ukraine could have avoided military intervention. See the “Report of the Special Rapporteur on minority issues on her mission to Ukraine” (27 janvier 2015).
    War has its own trajectory and now Ukraine is experiencing the ongoing devastation of war on its land. The Arctic Council should have its own trajectory and not be influenced by events in Europe. The Arctic Council is supposed to foster cooperation among its members.
    Climate change and marine pollution know no boundaries. Issues such as biodiversity, economic development, contaminant pollution of the Arctic Ocean and protection of marine life do not disappear but continue to need to be addressed. The Arctic Council with all 8 member states, including Russia in the presidency, and the 6 participating Indigenous groups should resume because the Council has a duty to the Indigenous Peoples, marine life, and environment of the Arctic and it will bring the countries together.
    Imagine if some of the billions of dollars spent on sending military equipment to Ukraine were spent instead on removing pollutants from the Arctic Ocean, conducting scientific research dealing with issues important in the Arctic, and improving the health, housing and communication networks of the indigenous peoples!
    Let the Arctic Council follow its own trajectory of why it was formed and what it needs to accomplish.

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