The firmly enrooted spirit of Arctic peace and cooperative efforts could be in jeopardy as new cold winds are blowing over East-West relations. At least if judging from Hillary Rodham Clinton.
From Crimea to Arctic Speaking in Montreal this week, Clinton threw a burning American torch into the Arctic discourse, indicating that Russian expansionist approaches could include also the high north. According to the prominent politician, east-west relations in the vast northern region will not stay unaffected by Russia’s annexation of the Crimea. Canada and the USA should forge a united front against Russia in the region, she argued.
In front of an audience of more than 4000, Clinton said that Putin is trying to rewrite the boundaries of post-World War II and that other countries will get similar treatment if Russia is allowed to “get away with it”, the Globe and Mail reports.
“There’s a lot at stake here”, she stressed, and highlighted Russia’s recent major build-up of forces and military bases in remote Arctic sites. Clinton has been a noted proponent of an enhanced American engagement in Arctic affairs and was the first U.S. secretary of state to attend an Arctic Council session.
A warning signal? Commenting on developments, a leading Norwegian researcher on the Arctic does not exclude a policy change in Russian Arctic affairs. “The annexation of the Crimea does send a warning signal that also Russian policies on the Arctic could change”, Geir Hønneland from the Fridtjof Nansen Institute says to BarentsObserver. “Like the Crimea, the Arctic has a major place in Russian identity”, he adds.
At the same time, Hønneland underlines that the reopening of military bases along the Russian Arctic coast does not necessary imply aggressive intentions and that Russia so far has presented itself as highly civilized country in Arctic affairs. “Russia can only gain from the rule of international law in the delimitation of the Arctic shelf”, he argues.
Geir Hønneland is researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute. (Photo: Fni.no)
The Arctic Council Over many years, Russia has significantly contributed to the work of the Arctic Council, the main forum for international Arctic cooperation. The country’s Arctic Ambassador Anton Vasiliev has repeatedly stressed Russian commitments towards the body and in a recent interview downplayed Russia’s military buildup in the region. According to Vasiliev, the military activities are “not aimed against any neighbours, is not of destabilizing character and does not cross any ‘red lines’.”
Apparently, Russia’s participation in the Arctic Council proceeds as before. In a Council meeting in Yellowknife, Canada, this week, a Russian delegation took part as planned. Commenting on Russia’s participation, a spokesperson of the Canadian chair said that “for the moment, the Arctic Council work continues as planned”, CBC News reports.
It is now Canada, which chairs the Council. In 2015, the rotating chair moves on to the USA.
Russia is stepping up its military activity in the Arctic region. As part of this effort, Russian Armed Forces reopened an abandoned military base on the Kola Peninsula in the Russia city of Alakurtti recently, just 60 kilometres from the Finnish border.
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