Norway: Russia Acting Constructively Regarding Transfer of Arctic Council Chairship

Norges ambassadør for Arktis, Morten Høglund.

Morgen Høglund is the Norwegian Senior Arctic Official and Arctic Council Official. At the end of March, Norway's priorities for the upcoming chairship of the Arctic Council were presented in Tromsø. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

In May, Norway is scheduled to take over the chairship of the Arctic Council from Russia. The cooperation with the Russian side regarding the practical transfer of the chairship is going well, says Morten Høglund, the Norwegian Senior Arctic Official.

At a meeting in St. Petersburg on Friday, Russia passed the baton for the Arctic Science Ministerial (ASM) to Norway, reports the Russian news agency TASS.

ASM is a forum for international Arctic research cooperation that was founded in 2016. It gathers science ministers from countries that are engaged in Arctic research for meetings approximately every two years. The last meetings have been organized by the country that holds the chairship of the Arctic Council – in cooperation with a non-Arctic state or actor.

Russia has now handed over the leadership of ASM to the Norwegian side as part of Norway's upcoming chairship of the Arctic Council. 

"This is not a part of the Arctic Council's activities and Norway did not participate in the meeting on Friday. But it is natural that Norway takes over this baton and the work around this will be taken care of by the Ministry of Education and Research," says Morten Høglund, Norway's Arctic Ambassador and Senior Arctic Official in the Arctic Council.

Norway is scheduled to take over the chairship of the Arctic Council from Russia on the 11th of May. There is some tension around how the transfer will go, as Russia is suspended from the council's cooperation activities, and there are some unanswered questions about Russia's participation in its activities in the future.

Can Russia's communication around the transfer of the ASM leadership be interpreted as a positive sign in regard to the transfer of the Arctic Council chairship?

"We generally perceive that Russia is constructive when it comes to the practical transfer of the chairship of the Arctic Council. Our cooperation is fine and this only adds to that," answers Høglund.

Wants to cooperate with Russian researchers

Normally, the chairship of the Arctic Council is transferred on a ministerial meeting between the eight member countries' MFAs. The meeting in May, on the other hand, will be held digitally, which is also reported by TASS. It will take place without any political participation from the Western Arctic countries. Norway will be represented by Høglund, who will be the Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials under the Norwegian chairship.

Norway has an overarching goal in which the council survives as the most important forum for international cooperation on Arctic issues – and believes that this implies the involvement of Russia at some level. However, the other Arctic states are not necessarily open to a certain level of cooperation with the Russian side.

"Norwegian MFA Anniken Huitfeldt has said something about Norway's thoughts about the way forward, and that is to include Russian researchers and Russian data in the council's work. It is not necessarily a question of inviting Russian researchers to physically participate in the working groups' meetings, but they can send in scientific data. This is our position. I cannot speak for the other states' position. We still have a lot to discuss."

That is stated by Knut Seim, Senior Advisor in the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs' Section for the High North, Polar Affairs and Marine Resources, at the High North Dialogue conference in Bodø on Tuesday. Seim will also be Norway's Deputy Senior Arctic Official. 

More about the Russian ASM meeting

Back to the meeting in St. Petersburg, which took place on Friday and Saturday: The meeting was presented by the Russian side as the fourth Arctic Science Ministerial meeting, as part of the plan for the Russian chairship of the Arctic Council.

Previously, ASM meetings have been organized by the US (2016), Finland, Germany, and the EU Commission (2018), as well as Iceland and Japan (2021).

Russia was meant to organize the ASM meeting this spring together with France, but the French withdrew from the cooperation following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. 

Russia's chairship of the council writes in a preliminary document for the meeting that representatives of non-Arctic states would give speeches on Saturday. TASS does not report which countries were present.

Scientific report was handed over

In addition to the passing of the baton to Norway, a report which summarizes the results of Arctic research in the past two years was also presented at the meeting. In the absence of official contacts with other Arctic countries, many details were looked up in open scientific sources, it is reported. 

On Wednesday, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre (Labor) was handed this report unannounced at the High North Dialogue in Bodø, Northern Norway. This was done by Andrey Bryksenkov, Deputy Director of the Representative Office of the Russian State Hydrometeorological University.

Russian ASM activities have been coordinated by this university and the Russian Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

The article has been updated with new information.

Also read

This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.