Russia's Top Arctic Diplomat: We Still Consider the Arctic Council an Important Forum

Nikolay Korchunov, Russia's Arctic Ambassador and head of the Russian chairship of the Arctic Council. (Screenshot from Ecumene 2022)

Russia still considers the Arctic Council a significant cooperation format, says Nikolay Korchunov, the country's Arctic ambassador. This bodes well for the transition of chairship of the council to Norway, believes FNI Researcher Svein Vigeland Rottem.

"We still consider the Arctic Council an important forum for cooperation in the Arctic. At the same time, we witness a weakening of the role of Arctic multilateral formats of cooperation, including the Arctic Council, writes Nikolay Korchunov, Russia's Arctic Ambassador and head of the Russian chairship of the council, in an e-mail to High North News.

Korchunov does not elaborate on what he means by weakening of formats for multilateral Arctic cooperation, but the notion is likely connected to the fact that cooperation activities with Russia have been suspended.

There is currently a lot interest around whether there will be a smooth transfer of the chairship of the Arctic Council from Russia to Norway on the 11th of May, something that Norwegian diplomats are working intensely to achieve. About this transfer, Korchunov writes the following:

"As for the procedures related to the transfer of chairship, we view them as a part of the regular consensus-based process of the Arctic Council which is going on. The transfer envisages preparation of the outcome documents/deliverables to be adopted at the Arctic Council session in May 2023, outlining the priorities that the incoming Chairship will follow during the next two years."

Today, Norway presented the outlines of its chairship in Tromsø, Northern Norway. 

Positive signals

FNI-forsker Svein Vigeland Rottem
Seniorforsker Svein Vigeland Rottem ved FNI er en av Norges fremste forskere på Arktisk råd. (Foto: FNI).
Senior Researcher Svein Vigeland Rottem is one of Norway's leading researchers on the Arctic Council. (Photo: FNI)

"Korchunovs statements suggest that the transfer of the chairship to Norway may go well. Several of the Arctic countries now believe so, in my impression. Then there are different views in regard to the future. Norway seems to be among those who to the greatest extent want to keep the door ajar to future Russian participation in the council," says Svein Vigeland Rottem, Senior Researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute.

This is reflected in a statement made by State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Eivind Vad Petersson (Labor), at the Kirkenes Conference in February.

"It is an overall aim for Norway to ensure that the Arctic Council actually survives as the most important international cooperation format for Arctic issue. That entails that all of the eight Arctic countries must be involved at some level," said Petersson.

Questions about the May meeting

The chairship of the Arctic Council is usually handed over during a ministerial meeting of the MFAs of the eight member countries, but ever since Russia's invasion of Ukraine, there has only been certain contact with the Russian side on an official level. Rottem is curious to see what this year's meeting will look like.

"As of now, we know that it will take place digitally, but not who will participate from the various countries. The question is whether it will be the Arctic officials or someone at a lower level. The US will probably want to resolve this at the lowest possible level. There are also questions about how documents and deliverables will be approved – and whether there will be room for the Russians to speak about what they have achieved during their chairship," says the FNI researcher and continues:

"There will probably be no joint declaration from this meeting. But some form of joint statement could be possible. Both Norwegian and Russian diplomats are probably working on coming up with words that everyone can agree on."

If a joint declaration from the Arctic countries fails to appear, it will not be the first time, notes Rottem – and shows to the ministerial meeting in 2019 when the US MFA Mike Pompeo did not want to stand behind a text that addressed climate change. 

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.