High North Dialogue: Norway MFA: "Russia Has Neither Been Expelled nor Withdrawn From the Arctic Council"
Bodø (High North News): As Norway prepares for the takeover of the Arctic Council from Russia in just three weeks, the opportunities and challenges for cooperation within the Council was debated among the Arctic Ambassadors to Norway and the EU.
"Our main focus now is to ensure a smooth transition. It will be a different chairship. Maybe the most important in the history of the Council."
The comment was made by State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs Eivind Vad Petersson (Labor) during the High North Dialogue conference in Bodø, Northern Norway on Thursday.
The upcoming takover of the Arctic Council (AC) chairship was one of the main topics when the conference gathered the State Secretary in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and five Arctic Ambassadors to Norway for debate.
In just three weeks, Norway is scheduled to take over the chairship of the Council from Russia. As HNN has written extensively about, there is intensive High North diplomacy at work to ensure the future of the leading intergovernmental forum in the region.
The future of the AC
Cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council has been suspended following the country's invasion of Ukraine.
Many have however warned that the amputated cooperation within the Arctic Council, for instance with Russian scientists, may afffect the reaserch being conducted in the field of climate change and environmental issues, especially as Russia holds major parts of the Arctic coastline.
"Any form of political cooperation with Russia is now out of the question. But there are still opportunities to continue the work in the Arctic at a lower level. Intensive work is now being done to achieve sufficient agreement and understanding around this," the State Secretary have previously said.
To HNN, Norwegian Minister of Climate and Environment, Espen Barth Eide (Labor), has also expressed that climate and environment may be the least difficult area to achieve cooperation with Russian actors in.
"Climate and environment, the oceans, people in the north, and sustainable economic development – the key priorities of Norway's chairship – are the things we believe to be important and relevant now. They are important globally, but also possible to cooperate on – even in the political climate we are in at the moment," Eide also pointed out.
Cooperation with Russia
"What kind of dialogue, if any, should there be in the Arctic Council with Russia?" moderator Editor-in-Chief of High North News, Arne O. Holm, asked the Ambassadors.
"We have to cross the bridge of transition of the chairship. That is the most important next phase. Once we have done that, we have to discuss other issues of how we move forward with the cooperation. So far, we have been able to continue with the projects without Russia in this new situation", said the Finnish Ambassador to Norway, Teemu Tanner, during the debate and added:
"Of course, as has been said earlier, we do not have business as usual, so we have to take that situation into consideration. Also, we have a EU sanctions policy which is also part of the equation. All this has to be discussed."
To HNN the Arctic Senior Officials from Sweden and Denmark have previously expressed that, at the moment, they see no possibility of cooperation with Russia.
"We have kept the door ajar because Russia is still a member of the council. Even if we cannot cooperate with them. So it is all on Russia. When Russia changes its behavior, the first place we will resume cooperation in is the Arctic," said Thomas Winkler, Denmarks Arctic Ambassador and Senior Arctic Official.
"The priority now is the transition, as the transition is the key to so many other things. I can assure you that diplomacy has been at work," said the Norwegian State Secretary during the debate in Bodø and added:
"Russia has not been expelled from the Arctic Council. It has not withdrawn. There are no plans to expell Russia from the Council. Still, business as usual at the political level now is out of the question."
Competitiveness of Arctic industries
Another issue among the Ambassadors was the green transition that takes place in the region. A current hot topic is The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) of 2022 from the US, which is the largest investment in climate and energy in American history; a $369 billion package of climate investments.
With the IRA, the US aims to take the lead in the green shift and spark investments in green industries through primarily tax and duty reductions. However, it may also impact business opportunities and the competitiveness of businesses in the Arctic, particularly with the many forthcoming large green projects in the region.
We need to avoid a situation where there is subsidy race.
Though Norway has the money to compete with the US investment, State Secretary in the Norwegian MFA Petersson pointed out the need to avoid a subsidy race.
"It is great news that the US is finally stepping up in terms of the green transition and climate investments. But we need to make sure we can play on each others strengths, and avoid a situation where there is subsidy race", Petersson said and mentioned that there are current talks ongoing – on how to find a solution to the issues that are raised by the IRA.
Nicolas de La Grandville, EU Ambassador to Norway, said the EU has been discussing closely with the US on the subject and has also come up with a plan called the Green Deal Industrial Plan, which enhances the competitiveness of Europe's net-zero industry.