Russia withdraws from the Barents Cooperation

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has formally terminated the country's membership of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. (Photo: Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

On Monday, Russia announced its withdrawal from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. The responsibility for the collapse of cooperation lies solely with the council's western members, claims the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Norsk versjon.

On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sent a letter about the country’s withdrawal from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) to the other member states and the EU, as well as the International Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes, Norway.

This cross-border cooperation in the Barents region, established in 1993, proved useful and effective for a long time, but it has now collapsed, the Russian side maintains.

“Through the fault of the Western members, the Council’s activities have been effectively paralysed since March 2022. The Finnish presidency failed to confirm the transfer of the BEAC presidency to Russia, scheduled for October 2023, in violation of the principle of rotation thus disrupting the necessary preparations,” states the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and continues:

“Under these circumstances, we are compelled to announce the withdrawal of the Russian Federation from the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.”

Shortly after the Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine, activities involving Russia within the Barents Euro-Arctic cooperation were suspended by Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the EU.

Cooperation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Council has continued under the auspices of Finland within the "Friends of the Presidency" format.

Blames the West

“We are convinced that the fleeting political situation, which our northern European neighbours are guided by, does not correspond to the long-term interests of the people of the Arctic region. The responsibility for breaking down the architecture of Barents cooperation rests entirely with our “partners.”,” writes the Russian Foreign Ministry.

“Russia will continue to pursue its national objectives in the north. We remain open to cooperation with anyone who is committed to constructive engagement and is prepared for equal dialogue and mutually beneficial collaborative work.”

The ministry also points to results from the decades when, in Russian eyes, the Barents Cooperation was an effective format for interaction:

“For 30 years, the BEAC has been a valuable and effective platform for transborder cooperation which contributed to the maintenance of peace and stability in the north, the sustainable socioeconomic development of the north, environmental protection, the strengthening of cultural and humanitarian ties, and people-to-people contacts, including representatives from the indigenous peoples.”

Facts about the Barents cooperation

– The Barents cooperation has constituted a formalized collaboration primarily between Russia, Norway, Finland, and Sweden – designed to promote stability and sustainable development in a region that was characterized by military tension during the Cold War.

– The cooperation was established through the Kirkenes Declaration in 1993, stemming from a top-political process led by the MFA's in Norway and Russia – and a regional process with initiatives for business and cultural cooperation between northern counties in the two states. These two levels structure the cooperation.

– The Barents Euro-Arctic Council is the format for intergovernmental cooperation – which also includes Denmark, Iceland, and the EU as members. Nine countries have observer status. An international Barents Secretariat, established in Kirkenes in 2008, provides administrative assistance.

– The Barents Regional Council has gathered 13 regional units in the four 'core countries' and representatives from the three indigenous peoples in the region – the Sàmi, Nenets, and Veps.

– There are several working groups under the council bodies, i.a. for health and social issues, environment, education and research, culture, indigenous affairs, and business.

– The Norwegian Barents Secretariat in Kirkenes, established in 1993, has supported Norwegian-Russian collaborations in the region through i.a. funding. In February, the secretariat closed its three local offices in Russia. Later, in June, the secretariat was tasked with focusing mainly on regional cross-border cooperation with Sweden and Finland, but it has still been able to support people-to-people cooperation with Russian civil society.