Arctic chill: Western nations are afraid that China and Russia may exploit tensions in the region

Western countries worry that China and Russia may try to take advantage of growing geopolitical tensions to gain more influence in the Arctic and increase their control over its natural resources.

Senior Western policymakers expressed concerns that the era Arctic exceptionalism, when the region was isolated from tensions elsewhere, was over.

After the full-scale invasion in Ukraine, the seven western members of Arctic Council, the main regional organization, have stopped cooperating with Russia.

The Norwegian Prime Minister, Jonas Gahr Store said, “It cannot be business as usual.” Norway took over the Arctic Council chair from Russia last month.

Pekka Haisto, the Finnish Foreign Minister, expressed concern that the gridlock could lead to “an Arctic without rules or an Arctic region with no common goal in terms of climate change.” Everyone could use it for shipping routes or raw materials. Senior policymakers from another Arctic country added: “The concern is if Russia or China create their own Arctic Council.”

Russia’s Nikolai Korchunov, who ended his tenure in May as the chair of the Arctic Council’s senior officials’ committee, said that Moscow could leave the organisation if not invited to take part in events held during the Norwegian Presidency.

In an interview with the state news agency Tass, Korchunov stated that not inviting Russia’s representative to Arctic Council events would be a violation of their rights as members. It would then be difficult for our country continue to participate in the activities.

He said that in view of the “weakening” role of the Arctic Council, which he blamed the western members for, Russia reached out to other countries. “We are already conducting an active dialog on the Arctic Agenda with them,” he added.

Russia’s relationship with China has always been tense over the Arctic. Since the beginning of Russia’s invasion in Ukraine, this appears to have changed. During a March visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the two sides announced that they would create a joint body to develop the Northern Sea Route. This is a shipping line and Russia’s flagship Arctic project.

Arctic warming is the fastest in the world, and it is causing countries near and far to look at its rich raw materials. These include oil and gas as well as rare earths.

The Arctic Council members had sought to avoid geopolitical tensions in the region. They often used the slogan “high north, no tensions” as a way to emphasize that issues such as shipping, mineral exploration and the environment could only be resolved jointly. In recent years, Russia has significantly increased its military footprint in the Arctic. other countries such as Denmark or Norway have responded by building new defence facilities in the high north.

China, one of a few non-Arctic nations with observers status in the Arctic Council, announced plans in 2018 for a ” polar Silk Road”. It has also been trying to increase its presence in one of the world’s last frontiers of exploration.

In 2019, the US asked Copenhagen to stop the attempts by Chinese state-owned firms to build airports on Greenland. Greenland is an autonomous part Denmark.

Mette Frederiksen said, “Let’s not be naive.” The Danish Prime Minister, Mette, will visit Greenland in the coming week, after having met US President Joe Biden, at the White House. We cannot be naive in regards to Ukraine, and we certainly can’t ignore the Arctic.

Will things return to normal in the Arctic Council?” When it comes to Russia, I don’t believe so. Does China play a role in Arctic Region? They do. Were we to be made aware of it? Yes.”

Haavisto expressed concern that the Arctic’s exceptionality was ending. There are many countries who also see the Arctic, and its raw material as an attractive issue. . . We share a strong interest in working together.”

Norway wants to maintain the Arctic Council by working with its other members – the US, Canada and Finland. It also works with Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark.

Store said that the Arctic Council was here to stay. There is so much that we have in common, both in terms of challenges as well as opportunities. It would be irresponsible not to pay attention to the [organisation].

Diplomats admit that Russia’s exclusion de facto from the Council creates a “clear dilemna”. Senior Arctic policymaker said: “On one hand, our agenda in the Arctic would be meaningless without Russia. The Arctic is 40 percent Russia. We can’t work with Russia at the moment. “This is the problem we are facing.”