Reykjavik (dpa) – Russia has taken over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the next two years. Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson handed over the presidency to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Thursday in Reykjavik.
To this end, he symbolically presented Lavrov with the chairman’s gavel at a ministerial meeting that takes place every two years. To this end, the municipality approved a strategic long-term plan for the first time, which will run until 2030. The ministers also signed a joint final statement.
The Arctic Council is the main forum for cooperation in the Arctic. The focus is mainly on environmental protection and sustainable development in the Arctic region. The municipality was founded in 1996 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. In addition to Russia and Iceland, it also includes the US, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Norway, and Sweden.
The superpowers the US, Russia and China have long been keeping an eye on the region in the far north – this was supported not least in the summer of 2019 when then US President Donald Trump offered to buy Greenland, which is part from of the Danish kingdom. The main reason for the interest is precious resources in the region and shipping routes, which in the course of climate change will be ice-free for a longer period of time and thus also longer accessible. Russia claims 1.2 million square kilometers – mainly on the raw materials stored there such as oil and gas.
“It has long been known that this is our territory, our soil,” Lavrov said in Moscow earlier this week. He also referred to his country’s increased military presence in the region. “We are responsible for keeping our Arctic coast safe,” he said. Everything Russia is doing in the Arctic is legitimate.
Others don’t see it that way. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in Reykjavik on Tuesday that he was concerned about the increasing military activity in the region. This increased the risk of accidents and misunderstandings. Militarization of the Arctic must be avoided.
The Russian army recently rebuilt the airport of the northernmost military base, Nagurskaya, so that even long-range bombers can land there. The Ministry of Defense in Moscow repeatedly reports maneuvers high in the north. Recently, three nuclear-powered submarines appeared simultaneously in the meter-thick ice. The Commander in Chief of the Northern Fleet, Admiral Alexander Moissejew, recently accused NATO of a stronger presence in the Arctic than ever before.
Rising temperatures keep the North Pole ice-free for longer. That doesn’t just mean easier access to resources. Moscow also hopes that the Northern Shipping Route could profile itself as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which in turn would mean greater control. So far, icebreakers still need to be deployed along Russia’s Arctic coast.