US concerns about militarization of the Arctic are “completely groundless”, Russian President Vladimir Putin told reporters during a press conference following his meeting with US President Joe Biden in Geneva Wednesday.
"We have discussed this in an extended format", he said and added that Russia is restoring border control and military infrastructure as well as infrastructure for environmental protection and search and rescue.
Cooperation and the Arctic Council
"I told our colleagues that I see no concerns here. On the contrary, I am deeply convinced that we can and should work together in this field", Putin said. "Just like the United States, Russia is one of the eight Arctic Council members. This year, Russia chairs the Arctic Council. Moreover, Alaska and Chukotka are separated by a well-known strait, with the United States on one side and Russia on the other. All this taken together should motivate us to pool our efforts".
"If the stakeholder states and members of the [Arctic, journ. note] Council work together to resolve these issues, and some of them require additional examination, then I have no doubt we will find solutions. I think there is no issue that we could not solve", he added.
United States President Joe Biden also told reporters that the issue of how to make sure the Arctic remains a region of cooperation rather than conflict was on the agenda at the meeting. He referred to Putin's press conference, saying he talked "about the need for us to be able to have some kind of modus operando where we dealt with making sure the Arctic was, in fact, a free zone".
In a US State Department special briefing following the meeting, a senior administration official says the US was clear about "our determination to preserve the Arctic as a region for peaceful cooperation."
"They [Russia, journ. note] profess to share our conviction that the Arctic should remain an area of peaceful cooperation. That’s good. And they’re in the chairmanship of the Arctic Council", the official said. However, he added, the US has two concerns:
"One is the steps we see Russia taking that suggest that it is interested in militarizing more the region, and we think that is exactly contrary to our stated desire to ensure that the Arctic remains an area of peaceful cooperation".
They clearly have a somewhat different perspective on the militarization question.
Differing views on militarization
The senior administration official went on to add that Russia and the United States see the development with regards to militarization of the Arctic differently.
"I don’t want to speak for them, but they clearly have a somewhat different perspective on the militarization question, and we just see that differently. We have the same stated objective. We see what’s going on differently. We’ll have to see whether there are ways both within the Arctic Council and outside the Arctic Council to work through some of these differences."
Northern Sea Route
The official said a separate, yet related, concern is the Northern Sea Route.
"Because the ice is melting so fast and because the route is now passable for a much longer stretch in the year, that’s going to increase traffic and that has the potential to make accidents, misunderstandings, miscalculations more possible. And so we think that there’s a real need to make sure that there’s a clear understanding on the rules of the road for traffic there, which is increasing," he noted.
During the press conference Putin underlined that he, in the meeting, drew the attention to the use of the Northern Sea Route and the legal frameworks pertaining to it, and said Russia "fully stand ready to stand by international regulations."