Russia new chairman of the Arctic Council | Free press

Reykjavik (AP) – Russia is the new chairman of the Arctic Council. Iceland passed the leadership of the main forum for cooperation in the Arctic region to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Thursday after two years.

Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson symbolically handed Lavrov the gavel at a ministerial meeting in Reykjavik – the eight Arctic states rotate at the head of the Council every two years.

Despite several points of contention between Russia and the West, Lavrov claimed that dialogue and cooperation would be maintained even under the Russian Presidency. “I am convinced that the North Pole can only develop further through cooperation,” said the minister at the Harpa concert hall in Reykjavik. “The Arctic is an area of ​​peace, stability and constructive cooperation.”

The ‘positive relations’ between the partners should now also be extended to the military area, which has hitherto been kept out of the body. Lavrov currently sees “no potential for conflict” in the Arctic. “We are pleased that the majority of our partners also occupy this position.” The US had previously expressed concern about Russia’s increasing military activity. Moscow has increased its military presence in the region in recent years.

At the ministerial meeting, the Council also approved for the first time a long-term strategic plan, running until 2030. In it, Arctic neighbors – including Russia and Iceland, as well as the US, Denmark, Finland, Canada, Norway and Sweden – recognize their common values ​​and they are committed to sustainable development and environmental protection in the region.

A joint closing statement was also signed – it was not first drafted at the last meeting in Finland in 2019 due to a refusal by the US administration of President Donald Trump. This was because the statement should warn of the effects of climate change on the Arctic. Unlike Trump, President Joe Biden’s current US administration is aiming for much more international cooperation and a determined fight against the climate crisis. There were no problems with the statement – and as if to underscore this, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken held up the pen with a smile after his signature.

The Icelanders received high praise at the meeting for their commitment to the Arctic, for example in the fight against climate change and marine pollution from waste and plastic. Thórdarson pointed out that the corona pandemic, like everything else, has messed up Iceland’s plans for the Council Presidency. “Our presidency was anything but ordinary.”

Like Iceland, Russia wants to deal with the consequences of climate change as chairman. With the permafrost thawing, the gigantic empire is particularly hard hit by the effects of global warming. According to a strategy note, the Russians are also concerned with protecting the population, especially the indigenous peoples. In addition, scientific cooperation is being intensified.

Germany has observer status in the Arctic Council. Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs Heiko Maas (SPD) made it clear in a video message that the future of the Arctic will also determine the future elsewhere. With a view of melting poles and rising sea levels, he said, “Half a meter doesn’t sound like much. But when you’re in a full bathtub, half a meter of water is much more. “This scenario threatens the world to the end of the century. Politicians must work together to protect the North Pole – and thus the Earth.

The Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet – and as is now known, it was even faster than previously believed: the rise in mean Arctic surface temperature between 1971 and 2019 was 3.1 degrees Celsius, about three times higher than the average in this one period, reported the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP) in Tromsø, Norway, a working group of the Arctic Council. This is a larger increase than reported in previous AMAP reviews.

Foreign ministers met in Reykjavik on Wednesday evening for a working dinner. Lavrov and Blinken had first met on the outskirts. According to both parties, it was a possible normalization of relationships. “The conversation seemed constructive to me,” said Lavrov. Relations between the two superpowers have long been tense.

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