Even if focus was on peace and prosperity in the High North, security questions emerged during the 12th Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavík, Iceland Thursday.
Most of the meeting still revolved around the Arctic as a region of peace, sustainable development and continued cooperation.
During the ministerial meeting, the first ever strategic plan for the Councils work the next ten years was adopted. A plan the all the participants of the meeting applauded.
Minister of Foreign Affairs in Iceland, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson, was happy for the agreement to sign both the declaration and the strategic plan.
“This is an excellent way to mark the 25 year anniversary”, said Thórdarson.
We will not let you down.
The Icelandic Foreign minister summed up the two year chairmanship by going over the achievements, calling attention to the accomplishments despite the unexcepted challenges of the corona pandemic.
“But we adapted quickly”, Thórdarson stated.
As Thórdarson handed the gavel over to Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergey Lavrov, he commented on the ambitious program, containing over a 100 tasks that Russia aims to complete during their chairmanship.
Sergey Lavrov continued by stating that Russia will continue the cooperation to ensure peace in the High North.
“As the largest Arctic state takes the torch, we do it carrying out motto: Responsible development of the High North”, said Lavrov.
During the press conference after the meeting, security issues came up, as Lavrov repeated Russias wish to revive the military dialogue between Arctic states.
“Today, we see no grounds for conflict, military or others. But we have to maintain readiness on the highest level and Russia wants to boost communication on a military level when it comes to search and rescue, safe maritime activities and disasters – natural or others”, said Lavrov.
"It is important to extend the positive relations that we have within the Arctic Council to encompass the military sphere as well," Lavrov continued.
Does not agree
He added that he is not asking for anything new, just the revival of the dialogue that ended in 2014, with meeting between the Arctic countries’ Armed Forces.
As the Arctic Council was created to ensure peaceful dialogue between the Arctic states and indigenous people on issues such as environmental protection and sustainable development, military and security issues were excluded.
Icelandic Foreign Minister, Thórdarson, stated that he did not agree with his Russian colleague on this particular issue. Nor does the other member states.
“Even if none of the partners has said yes to this, they have not said no either”, said Lavrov, and added that he had good conversation with both Norway and USA over security issues during the stay in Reykjavik.
It remains unclear in what form or forum the initiative to revive the Armed Forces dialogue will take place.
Too close to the border
“It concerns us that our neighbors are allowing military activity close to our border. This goes against the agreement Russia made with Nato in 1997”, said the Russian foreign minister.
He added that Russia wish to resolve any issue through dialogue, and closed by going back to the original message from Russia:
The spirit of cooperation.
“Russia will arrange a summit of the Arctic states during our chairmanship. We will work to strengthen the climate work and to build synergies. We will focus on joint health care for the people in the High North, Youth exchange and sustainable development. And we will strengthen the relationships with indigenous people and the understanding of each other”, ensured the russian Foreign Minister, and highlighted the importance of building trust.
"I appreciate all the support and we will not let you down".