Russia Wants to Resume Meetings Between Arctic Defense Chiefs

Russian Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Nikolay Korchunov (center) during a panel conversation at the Arctic forum in St. Petersburg, April 2019. (Photo: Jonas Karlsbakk, the Barents Secretariat)
“Russia supports resuming the annual meetings of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces in the Arctic states in order to prevent deterioration of the military policy situation in the Arctic”, says Russian Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic Nikolay Korchunov.

Russia takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council at the scheduled Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland in May 2021. Russia is to hold the chairmanship for the 2021-2023 period.

Nikolay Korchunov serves as Ambassador-at-Large for the Arctic at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and as the Senior Arctic Official of the Russian delegation to the Arctic Council.

In an interview with Elena Chernenko from the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Ambassador Nikolay Korchunov explains what Moscow wants to achieve during its chairmanship and what issues it will put on the agenda.

Sustainable development

In the interview, Korchunov says sustainable development will be the main focus for the Russian chairmanship.

“The need to improve living conditions for the population in the Arctic region; adjusting life in the Arctic to climate change; preserving biological diversity; as well as the economic development in the Arctic, led by major projects for extraction and processing of natural resources; intensified shipping along the Northern Sea Route; and growth in tourism and trade, require collective efforts from all the states in the Arctic G8", Korchunov says to Kommersant.

Militarization of the Arctic

The challenges related to increased militarization of the Arctic is an issue discussed more and more frequently. Western countries accuse Russia of contributing to this. The mandate of the Arctic Council, as described in the Ottawa Declaration, explicitly excludes military security.

Russian forces training in the Arctic during the Vostok 2018 exercise. (Photo: mil.ru)

When asked whether Russia will raise this issue during its chairmanship at the Arctic Council, the Ambassador responds:

“Our country firmly maintains the line of diplomatic solutions to all controversial issues, including territorial and other disagreements, as registered by the five Arctic coast states in the Ilulissat Declaration of 2008. We see no reason to raise the issue of militarization separately as a part of the Council’s chairmanship.”

Korchunov continues:

“And we assume it to be a fact that there are no issues in the Arctic that require a military solution. Furthermore, the mandate of the Ottawa Declaration from 19 September 1996 excludes military security issues from the agenda of the organization.”

Resumption of meetings

Chernenko says that in the current situation, these issues cannot be ignored for too long, and she asks whether or not Russia will touch upon security policy issues in any way during its chairmanship.

“Russia supports resuming the annual meetings of the Chiefs of the Armed Forces in the Arctic states in order to prevent deterioration of the military policy situation in the Arctic. This would be an effective measure to build trust and security in the region. As a first step towards resuming this format, it would be possible to consider the option of organizing a dialogue on the level of military experts from the Arctic Council’s member states, where issues such as establishing operative cooperation in order to prevent incidents in waters outside territorial zones could be discussed."

These annual meetings were put to a halt in 2014. 

Chernenko further asks who Moscow believes to be carrying the main responsibility for the increased conflict potential in the Arctic.

“When the ice melts and accessibility of the region increases, there is an increase in military presence and activity in the region in both the Arctic states and non-Arctic NATO member states. As a result, the potential for conflict in the Arctic increases. During the past five years, it is assumed that NATO countries have doubled their military exercises and other battle training activities in the Arctic. The Armed Forces of non-Arctic NATO member states, as well as states that are not NATO members, are increasingly involved in participating in these”, Korchunov says and adds:

“The voyage into the Barents Sea early May 2020 by NATO forces consisting of American and british vessels under the pretext of ‘securing the safety and freedom of navigation of trade’ was clearly provocative.”

NATO vessel entering the Barents Sea in September 2020. (Photo: British Royal Navy)

Russia also re-arming

Elena Chernenko stresses that Russia, too, is building up its military presence in the Arctic.

“The measures taken by the Russian Federation in the Arctic is due to the importance of this region for national security and the economy of our country. Because the Arctic zone in Russia produces more than 10 percent of our Gross National Product and 20 percent of Russian exports. At the same time, our goal is to secure security and stability for conducting major economic projects and securing the socio-economic development of the Arctic zone under conditions with increased interest in this region from a series of states, including non-Arctic”, the Ambassador says and continues:

“Russia’s military activity in the Arctic does not violate any international obligations and is not aimed at any of the countries in the Arctic region and does not constitute a threat to their national security. I am sure NATO explains its actions and plans using the same arguments”, Korchunov says and adds:

“Unlike many other countries, Russia has consequently supported the creation of a system with strict adherence to international law in the Arctic region. This system would adhere closely to the spirit and letter of the relevant conventions, expresses interest in preserving the region as a zone of peace, stability and constructive cooperation, such as reflected in the Ottawa Declaration, as well as a joint final declaration from ministers signed during the Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council in Rovaniemi on 6 May 2019."

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.

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