A mere month before Norway is due to take over the Arctic Council, 15 Russian diplomats are expelled from Norway. At the same time, another powerful international alliance is slowly, but systematically moving into the Arctic.
The title is a minor paraphrasing of an almost exhausted protest song from "The Wall", a record released by the legendary Pink Floyd in 1979. We were many who rhythmically sang along with the chorus of "Another Brick in the Wall":
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone
All in all, it's just another brick in the wall
The war was cold
The war was cold and the walls between the East and West were growing tall. At the moment, I do not know how Russia will react to the expulsion of Russian diplomats, but it is guaranteed to increase iciness between two countries with a shared border in the High North.
What still exists of the necessary dialogue between Russia and Norway on fishery management, rescue operations, and neighborliness on Svalbard, for example, will be put to a serious test.
Hey, teacher, leave them kids alone.
Soon, there are no diplomats left.
Any confrontation between Norway and Russia affects the High North first and foremost.
A touchstone in the relationship is merely weeks away. Russia will then, if everything goes according to plan, hand over the chairship of the Arctic Council. No one knows how painless it will be. Nor whether the Arctic Council, the cooperation between the Arctic States, will be able to go on without dialogue with Russia.
A powerful organization
In the meantime, another powerful organization is now sailing into Arctic waters.
BRICS is an association of states with quite the difference in interests, but which have formed closer ties to each other in the shadow of Russia's war against Ukraine. Right now, the member countries Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa are meeting in Moscow.
Russia has left the door wide open.
In a speech to the member countries, the message from the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Ryabkov, was not to be misunderstood, according to the news agency Tass. For Russia, it is of utmost importance to strengthen cooperation between the current BRICS countries.
Not only is the cooperation to be strengthened. It will also increasingly focus on what is happening in the Arctic.
High North News can report today that Trust Arktikugol, the state-owned Russian mining company in Barentsburg on Svalbard, wants to build an Arctic science station made up precisely of BRICS countries, in Barentsburg.
Russian Minister of the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic, Aleksei Chekunkov, emphasized last week that such a science station is the future of Trust Arktikugol.
According to the Russian, Arctic top diplomat, Nikolay Korchunov, Moscow "considers it important to strengthen cooperation in the region [the Arctic, ed.note] with non-Arctic states as existing cooperation formats, such as the Arctic Council, are expected to be weakened."
Of the five BRICS countries, only Brazil has not signed the Svalbard Treaty, but already in 2019, we in High North News wrote about Brazil being in the process to sign the treaty.
Several countries have signaled that they wish to join BRICS. Among these are Saudi Arabia, Argentina, and Egypt, all of which have signed the Svalbard Treaty.
A challenging game behind the scenes.
Norwegian control is dwindling
Ny-Ålesund on Svalbard is currently a sheer research station. Five years ago, the research became subject to the Norwegian Polar Institute in order to strengthen Norwegian control. The Chinese activity in Ny-Ålesund was especially challenging.
Now, a game is taking place behind the scenes that may become just as challenging for Norwegian authorities on Svalbard.
At the same time, on an overarching level, a battle is fought between the Arctic Council and the BRICS countries for influence in the Arctic. All the seven remaining states in the Arctic Council are Arctic states. Of the BRICS countries, only Russia is located in the Arctic.
A Russia that has left the door wide open to states that in the long term could control 50 percent of the world economy.
This is not just another brick in the wall between East and West. It is a description of how international grand policy, militarization, and trade wars have truly entered the Arctic.
We don't need no thought control, sings Pink Floyd.
Right now, much seems to be out of control.
This commentary was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.