As Arctic Council chair passes to Russia, ‘we could see a very friendly bear,’ expert says

Russia plans for two years of high-profile circumpolar co-operation

This rendering depicts the Snowflake International Arctic Station that Russia plans to build after it assumes the chairmanship of the Arctic Council this week. Snowflake is intended to be “a hub for energy innovation and cultural exchange” in northwest Russia, the Arctic Council says. (Photo courtesy of the Moscow institute of Physics and Technology)

By Jane George

Expect no open disputes as key ministers from eight circumpolar nations — Canada, United States, Denmark-Greenland, Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia — gather Thursday in Reykjavik for the 12th ministerial of the Arctic Council.

Whitney Lackenbauer, Canada Research Chair in the study of the Canadian north at Trent University, says turmoil elsewhere in the world should stay out of the Harpa meeting hall.

During their three-hour meeting, ministers responsible for the Arctic, including Canada’s foreign minister, Marc Garneau, will go through a list of the Arctic Council’s priorities and reports from various working groups on issues such as contaminants, oil spill containment and shipping.

They are expected to approve a joint declaration and pass the two-year-long chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Iceland to Russia.

Russia is likely to be on its best behaviour at the meeting and during its chairmanship of the council from 2021 to 2013, Lackenbauer said.

“Russia will be the ‘bear in the chair,’ but we could see a very friendly bear. We won’t see any thrashing out against the West,” he said. “Russia would like nothing more than to encourage nations like the U.S. to end their economic sanctions on Russia, which date back to their unlawful behaviour in Ukraine.”

But while Russia is likely to remain a friendly player in the Arctic Council, that does not change the reality that it has behaved outside the council in ways that have been more adversarial than friendly, Lackenbauer said.

“That’s the challenge for Canada,” he said. “That we can continue to embrace the spirit of co-operation without undermining our principled stand against Russia elsewhere in the world. Doing this will be a considerable achievement.”

As chair of the Arctic Council, Russia plans to focus on societal challenges in Russia’s north and invigorating the Arctic Economic Council.

The economic council was also promoted by Leona Aglukkaq, as Arctic minister during Canada’s chairmanship from 2013-15.

“But it really hasn’t taken root, so Canada and Russia should find common ground to work together,” Lackenbauer said.

The upcoming meeting is unlikely to see conflicts created by U.S. representatives, as it did in 2019, when the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, opposed any joint declaration about the need for action on climate change.

That prompted harsh criticism from the Inuit Circumpolar Council, one of six Indigenous permanent participants on the council, which called the U.S. position “a moral failure.”

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has approved a plan for Russia’s chairmanship aimed at maintaining peace, stability and cooperation in the region, the Russian government said on Saturday.

“As chair of the Arctic council and all of the other activities which go along with this, this is really a great moment for Russia to try to promote a very positive face of what it’s doing in the Arctic,” Lackenbauer said.

To that end, Russia has planned cultural festivals, scientific conferences, expeditions,, summits, roundtables and forums.

Most events will take place in Russia’s northern cities: Yakutsk, Salekhard, Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Syktyvkar, as well as Arctic Norway.

Plans also include the construction of the Snowflake International Arctic Station, a year-round research station on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula, in the Russian Arctic east of Scandinavia, which is expected to be fully powered by renewable energy.

Besides being a hub for international innovations, Snowflake will also serve as “a place of encounter between Indigenous peoples and visitors to the research station,” said the Arctic Council in Pathways, a publication celebrating its 25th anniversary.

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(10) Comments:

  1. Posted by Wayne Brines on

    Hope that 2020 is over and the forum becomes an example of cooperation.

  2. Posted by Lili Weemen on

    Why is France-St-Pierre Miquelon not a member of the circumpolar nations?

    • Posted by No territory on

      ….because they zero territory in the arctic. Why is this relevant?

    • Posted by No Good Reason to be on

      Because it is not part of a circumpolar state, nor are its peoples ‘circumpolar’.

    • Posted by boris pasternak on

      Is France a circumpolar nation? St Pierre and Miquelon are they not a France territory? Case close. we do not want to crowd the party.

    • Posted by Northern Inuit on

      because we took their poutine recipe and that’s all we needed from them and asked them to take their toys and go home.

      seriously, they are not part of the circumpolar nation, no need.

  3. Posted by stephen on

    The foreign policy out of Washington of provocation and never ending conflict at the will of an industry high and addicted to it does not mesh with the storyline of a Council of peace and cooperation. And Russia has a history of standing up for herself when need be. I wholeheartedly would love to be proven wrong but the great outlook is not what anyone following the news would expect to play out in the near future with the Arctic Council.

    • Posted by Incoherent on

      What are you trying to say here?

      • Posted by stephen on

        Cold War 2, deja by all over again

  4. Posted by stephen on

    Damn the auto correct… deja vu

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