Tromsø, Northern Norway: On the 11th of May, Norway will take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from a locked-out Russia. MFA Anniken Huitfeldt (Labor) plans a smooth transition and says there is some contact with Russia.
There are high expectations for Norway's takeover of the Arctic Council on the 11th of May. Researchers within the Arctic field believe that Norway is well-equipped for the complex task precisely because of its long-term relationship with Russia, which is locked out of the council despite holding the chairmanship for the past year.
"Our first priority is conserving the Arctic Council as the most important multilateral forum for Arctic issues. The first step to ensure a neat transition of leadership," says Norwegian MFA Anniken Huitfeldt (Labor) when High North News meets her in Tromsø during the Arctic Frontiers conference.
"You say that the Arctic Council will remain also after Norway takes over the chairmanship. How will Norway implement Russia in the council?"
"We have some contact with Russia on an official level. That has continued also after we severed the political contact. And we will continue to do so also in this situation," says the MFA.
Huitfeldt says that it is important to maintain some contact with Russia to minimize the risk of misunderstandings and intentional escalation of conflict in the Arctic:
Our role as a leader will be very different from what we expected.
"Russia is and will remain our neighbor. There are high expectations for the Norwegian chairmanship," says Huitfeldt.
"We will take over the chairmanship either way and we want a flexible and smooth transition. And we have some contact with Russia on an official level. So we will see how it plays out."
"So Russia will play along and not create any trouble?"
"I cannot say anything about that at the moment, but we are planning to take over the chairmanship in the spring."
The government presents the main issues to the chairmanship in Tromsø, Northern Norway, in March.
"It is important to emphasize that the challenges are still there. There is climate change and it is important to create more jobs to get people to live in the north," says Huitfeldt.
"Our role as a leader will be very different from what we expected. But it will probably be the most important in the council's history," concludes Anniken Huitfeldt.
This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.