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Arctic cold: Western countries fear China and Russia will exploit regional tensions


Western countries are concerned that China and Russia could try to exploit growing geopolitical tensions in the Arctic to increase their influence over the region and its abundant natural resources.

In a series of interviews with the Financial Times, leading Western policymakers expressed fears that the era of arctic exceptionalism – when the Arctic was isolated from tensions elsewhere – was over.

The seven western members of the Arctic Council, the main regional body, stopped working together with Russia on everything from protecting the environment to discussing the rights of indigenous peoples after last year’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine.

“It can’t go on as usual,” said Jonas Gahr Støre, Prime Minister of Norway, which took over the presidency of the Arctic Council from Russia last month.

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto said he was concerned that the resulting stalemate could lead to “an Arctic without rules, or an Arctic without a common goal for climate change. It would be free for anyone to use for shipping lanes, for raw materials.”

A senior policymaker from another Arctic state added: “The concern is that Russia and China are forming their own kind of Arctic Council.”

At the end of his tenure as chairman of the committee of senior officials of the Arctic Council in May, Russian Nikolai Korchunov said Moscow could withdraw from the organization if it was not invited to participate in events during the Norwegian presidency .

“Not inviting Russian representatives to the events of the Arctic Council would be a violation of its rights as a member state, and in this case it would hardly be possible for our country to continue to participate in the activities of this organization,” Korchunov said. in an interview. with state news agency Tass.

He said that in light of the “weakening role” of the council, which he blamed on Western members, Russia was reaching out to other countries and organizations and “already engaged in an active dialogue on the Arctic agenda” with them.

Russia’s relations with China across the Arctic have traditionally been strained. But since the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, that seems to be changing. During a visit by Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Moscow in March, the two sides announced the establishment of a joint working body for the development of the Northern Sea Route, a shipping route and Russia’s flagship Arctic development project.

The Arctic is the fastest warming region in the world and this is leading countries both near and far to monitor abundant resources from oil and gas to rare earths.

Members of the Arctic Council had tried to keep geopolitical frictions out of the region, often using the slogan “high north, low tensions” to underscore how environmental, shipping and mineral exploitation problems in the Arctic could only be solved collectively. are being solved. But Russia has significantly increased its military presence in the Arctic in recent years, prompting others, such as Denmark and Norway, to respond by building new defense installations in the far north.

China, one of several non-Arctic countries with observer status with the Arctic Council, launched plans for a “Polar Silk Road” in 2018 and has been steadily trying to increase its influence in what is one of the last frontiers for exploration on the Arctic. planet.

Attempts by Chinese state-owned companies to build airports in Greenland, an autonomous part of Denmark, were halted in 2019 after the US urged Copenhagen to block the plans.

Mette Frederiksen, the Danish Prime Minister, who will visit Greenland next week after meeting US President Joe Biden at the White House, said: “Let’s not be naive. We cannot be naive about Ukraine and we cannot be naive about the Arctic.”

“Will things just go back to normal in the Arctic Council? I don’t think so when it comes to Russia,” Frederiksen said. “Is China playing a role in the Arctic? Yes that are they. Should we be aware of this? Yes.”

Haavisto said he feared that Arctic exceptionalism was over. “There are also many other countries that see the use of the Arctic and its resources as a tantalizing issue. . . We have a very strong common interest in working together.”

Norway fights to keep the Arctic Council going by doing as much as possible with the other members – the US, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland – while Russia is left out in the cold.

“The Arctic Council is here to stay,” said Støre. “There is so much in common – in terms of challenges and opportunities – that it would be completely irresponsible to look away from the (organization).”

But diplomats admit that Russia’s de facto exclusion from the council creates a “clear dilemma”. The senior Arctic policymaker added: “On the one hand, the agenda we want to promote in the Arctic makes little sense without Russia. It makes up 40 percent of the Arctic. On the other hand, we cannot cooperate with Russia now. This is what we struggle with.”

Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Berlin

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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