Russian invasion of Ukraine will have spillover effects in Arctic

Arctic Council work could be delayed; Russia holds the body’s rotating two-year chair

The work of the Arctic Council, seen here in a screenshot from its 2021 meeting, could be delayed as as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, observers say. Russia took over a chair of the international organization of circumpolar nations, including Canada, at last year’s meeting. (Screenshot courtesy of Arctic Council)

By Melody Schreiber and Krestia DeGeorge
Arctic Today

Now that Russia has launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, it’s clear that the attack will have serious spillover effects in the Arctic, observers say — but exactly how extensive those effects will be remains to be seen.

One key area of concern will be in the Arctic Council.

The organization has consistently been touted as one of the forums in which Russia and other Arctic nations — many of whom are NATO members, and have tensions with Russia elsewhere — cooperate effectively. It’s even been nominated for the Nobel Prize several times in recent years for this reason.

That’s likely to change because of the invasion.

Much of the work of the Arctic Council actually takes place in its working groups, and some of that work could continue, said Marisol Maddox, senior Arctic analyst at the Wilson Center’s Polar Institute.

“However, some of the capstone events — like, for instance, the Arctic Resilience Forum for the Sustainable Development Working Group that’s supposed to be held in Murmansk this fall,” may be cancelled, she said. “I’m a part of that work and I’m doubting that I’ll be traveling to Murmansk in the fall.”

A Russian incursion into Ukraine will likely affect the Arctic — but exactly how is unclear

The fact that this is happening while Russia holds the council’s two-year rotating chair “is an additional stressor to the Arctic Council, because Russia is hosting, on their territory, the SAO meetings and the ministerial that’s supposed to be a little over a year from now,” she said. That means it would be much more difficult for diplomats to attend such meetings.

That’s especially grim news because of how crucial some of those discussions are for the future of the Arctic, said Evan Bloom, a senior fellow at the Polar Institute and a former State Department official who helped establish the Arctic Council.

“The problem is, those meetings are really important because they bear upon climate change cooperation and working together on biodiversity and economic and sustainable development in the Arctic,” he said. “All of those are very important to all of the Arctic states.”

Both Bloom and Maddox spoke to ArcticToday earlier in the week, when Russian troops had entered the Donbas region but not yet begun of full-scale invasion of other regions of Ukraine.

After those attacks, Bloom noted in a follow-up email that U.S. President Joe Biden said in a Thursday press conference that there was a “complete rupture in U.S.-Russia relations.”

“I think the implication of that is that it will not be business as usual in U.S. dealings with Russia for the foreseeable future, and this will have an impact on cooperation in the Arctic Council, as well as in Arctic matters involving Russia more generally.”

While the Arctic Council is the most visible place where the U.S. and its allies have cooperated with Russia in the region, there are other areas where a shift could have significant impacts.

The U.S. and Russia also work together in the Arctic Coast Guard Forum, have maritime pollution agreements and have even undertaken joint patrols in the Bering Sea as recently as last year. Such cooperation is likely to be put on hold, but doing so could affect both countries’ ability to respond to emergencies along their extensive maritime border between Alaska and the Russian Far East.

In a call with journalists on Thursday, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz expressed hope that the U.S. and Russia could still find common ground in the Arctic Coast Guard Forum: “That’s my goal is to continue to champion the same trajectory we’re on here,” he said.

There are also individual projects, such as international efforts to retrieve a pair of sunken nuclear submarines from Russian Arctic waters, that could be delayed because of these developments. That effort was to have been funded in part by the EU and would’ve removed a safety threat to both Russian and Norwegian fisheries, but could be scrapped or put on hold.

Putin’s economic ambitions in the Arctic could also further complicate these issues.

By 2024, he would like to be shipping 80 million tons of cargo through the Northern Sea Route, which could result in increased traffic through the Bering Strait.

That could increase the risks of miscommunication or unintentionally escalate conflict, Maddox said, at “a time when we really need to be increasing cooperation.”

There have also been more airspace incursions from Russia on a level not seen since the Cold War, as well as large-scale military exercises in Northern waters, Maddox said.

“If there was an accident or some kind of incident now, it has more potential for escalation because it could be misinterpreted,” she said.

After the annexation of Crimea, public conversations between Arctic military leaders ceased.

Clearer communications could prevent further escalation or keep conflict out of the Arctic — but that seems an increasingly distant prospect, Maddox said.

“This is the complete opposite direction that we need to be going.”

This article originally appeared at Arctic Today and is republished with permission.

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(9) Comments:

  1. Posted by Iconoclastic Plastic on

    Thanks for addressing this issue Nunatsiaq, though I was expecting to see the more obvious connection made to the mental health harms and severe trauma inflicted on marginalized students in Ottawa who are unable to cope with their Twitter feeds under these extremely stressful conditions. It’s time we amplified their voices!

    • Posted by the truth on

      “unable to cope with their Twitter feeds”

      how sad they can’t turn off twitter for a few days to get out into the REAL world…

      “marginalized students in Ottawa ”

      who are these marginalized people? are they self inflicting marginalization because they hold unrealistic and often borderline crazy views and blame others for being stupid?

    • Posted by Brown voice and body on

      Everyday in a brown body is trauma as we are hunted by police and told we are less than white people who are so privileged they never have to deal with terror and erasure. What is happening in Ukraine is one thing, but we live this everyday.

      • Posted by Mere Rhetoric on

        I see the moderator is hard at work doing nothing again. Here is a definition of racism for you.

        the belief that different races possess distinct characteristics, abilities, or qualities, especially so as to distinguish them as inferior or superior to one another.

  2. Posted by Northerner on

    Bad russians , only americans are allowed to invade other countries.

    • Posted by TRauhala on

      It is important we understand the roll the US led western coalition has had in precipitating this crisis; owing to a poorly thought-out, overly idealistic, and impractical policy of expanding membership in NATO.

      Russia, while resistant, tolerated two waves from 1999 (Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary) to 2004 (more consequentially the Baltic States). However, the line was clearly drawn for them with the prospective admission of Ukraine and Georgia (see the Bucharest Summit, 2008).

      Imagine the thought processes and sense of existential threat felt inside the US during the Cuban missile crisis and you have a useful, even if imperfect, analogy to how Russia might view the expansion of the Western military alliance onto its doorstep.

      Remember, the US would never tolerate a similar arrangement in the Americans (see the Monroe Doctrine). That so many in the US Foreign Policy establishment can’t concede this is testament to the blinding magic of its hubris.

      To understand, consider that the risks to the United States for pushing the NATO envelope have been relatively low. We see this now as the people of Ukraine bear the full costs of NATO’s game, while the west comforts itself with a hashtag campaign #IStandwithUkraine, and thoughts and prayers (okay, I’m exaggerating, but not my much).
      If you are interested, check out John Mearsheimer: The Situation in Russia and Ukraine, recorded (serendipitously) about 3 days before the invasion.

      To your point, it is indeed remarkable how differently we perceive the legitimacy of aggression depending on where it radiates into the world from and in its relation to us. Western aggression is cast as a moral imperative, counter aggression is cast as moral flaw. Reverse your position and I suppose you would find the same dynamics playing out the same way but pointing in the opposite direction. If we can start there, we can perhaps begin to unravel things and we might stand a better chance of finding resolutions.

      • Posted by Okay, but… on

        Interesting points but so far Russia appears to be performing quite poorly. Maybe placing NATO on its front steps was a brilliant idea that will hasten the end of the Putin Presidency.

        • Posted by TRauhala on

          Well, let’s hope it turns out exactly as you said, and it could, but it is far from clear that it will, or that that could be guessed in advance; in which case I would probably attribute it to a lucky go at Russian roulette rather than genius.

          I’m not cheering on Putin here, the point is the west has, arguably, been careless in managing the risks involved in pressing NATO expansion, consequently handing those to the people of Ukraine, as we can see playing out now.

          I’d be curious to hear some different opinions on this.

          • Posted by Funny bone on

            Good luck with those “different opinions” lol… you know where you are dude?

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