- When talking about military activity in Russia, one should keep in mind that we are not talking about international waters or areas, but about Russian territory, says Russia’s ambassador to Norway.
- When Norway and NATO organize the largest exercise ever since the Cold War, and that is to be seen as a defense exercise, whereas a Russian exercise becomes a challenge, that is really more about propaganda than realities.
Done modernizing by 2020
The Russian Ambassador to Norway, Teimuraz O. Ramishvili, was among the audience during the opening of the Arctic Frontiers 2019 conference in Tromsø yesterday.
Russia was not represented in the panel debating “The State of the Arctic”, however, the country was not surprisingly mentioned quite frequently, also by Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide.
Søreide said, among others, that even though one does not appreciate the extensive Russian military activity in the North, cooperation in many other areas between the two countries is going rather well.
The Russian Ambassador repeats that the Russian modernization of its defense in the North will be completed by 2020, and argues that what the West sees as a strengthening of force on the Russian side is just that – a modernization that is required following many years of little or no maintenance.
Common to exercise in the North
- It is also quite common for us to practice and test new equipment in the North, we have always done that, Ramishvili points out.
- What happens in the moment is really more propaganda than realpolitik from both sides. What we really need is transparency and openness between military leaders to reduce tension and misunderstandings between us. NATOs exercises are considered natural too, however, that crucial transparency is missing.
When western leaders do not want to meet with Russian military leaders, the level of tension will remain high. From the Russian side, we are totally open to pick up contacts again, it is up to you, Ambassador Ramishvili says to High North News.
Russia is a responsible actor
- Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide stressed that cooperation with Russia in most other areas is going more or less as usual, that there is widespread contact between the countries?
- I agree with her, and I consider it positive that she in this way helps informing the international society about how cooperation with Russia, despite tensions in some areas, is going well.
She states that Russia is a responsible actor in the Arctic, bilaterally with Norway and multilaterally through the Arctic Council. I interpret that in a positive light, Ramishvili says.
The USA and Trump complicate cooperation
- The fact that the US’ President Donald Trump appears not to care much about what happens in the High North, does that make things easier or more complicated for Russia in the Arctic, when it comes to promoting her own interests?
- It makes everything more complicated, including in the Arctic. Arctic conditions are far more complicated than most other things; that is not something we can negotiate about and solve once and for all. It is something that will remain for all foreseeable future. We are here, we will not move away from the Arctic, nor will the Arctic move. We live here, we work here and we will continue to do so in the future. That requires cooperation all the way through.
Ramishvili believes that the lacking US interest in the High North amongst others is due to what he refers to as the American “business first” mentality.
- Few people live in Alaska, many of those who do are indigenous people. For our two countries, Norway and Russia, the situation is different. We have a rather significant part of our population living in the Arctic, and we see great production of value in the North.
Do not do charity
The Russian ambassador believes that the American interest in and involvement with the High North will increase, little by little.
- Both oil and mineral operations in Alaska are rather new businesses, but as they grow, interest will increase. The USA will also depend on cooperation, on there being trust between the countries of the Arctic.
None of the Arctic countries operate on a charitable basis; they all want to make a profit of what they do. However, the world may end up in a situation where a few countries, the Arctic states, will have to share their northern resources with the rest of the world.
I am not just thinking of oil and gas, which hold abundant resources, but also of minerals and not to mention food. The ocean-based industries in the High North may become crucial for the whole world and this will also create a lot of jobs. It all requires close and good cooperation between the Arctic states, Ramishvili argues.
Strong voices in the High North
- What is truly important now, is that none of the actors in the North have crossed ‘the red line’. All nations behave carefully and responsibly, which is not always easy given the current political climate.
There are, fortunately, strong voices in the North, voices trying to make up for negative political development, in all areas, from economy to defense and security policy.
It is important to still take good care of the High North, which means so much to the whole world.
Teimuraz O. Ramishvili is, nevertheless, worried about lack of investments in the North. What happens at the moment is not enough, he argues.
- The Arctic needs major investments if it is to play the key role the region may hold. But how can we do that when some countries are left out or sanctioned away?
One nation alone cannot raise the capital needed in the Arctic, however, as long as the economic sanctions against Russia are upheld, there is no answer to this question, Russian Ambassador to Norway Teimuraz O. Ramishvili says in closing.