Refuses to meet Russia when Norway takes over the Arctic Council – NRK Troms and Finnmark

– Preserving the Arctic Council is our most important ambition. It is not certain that we will manage it, says Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt (Ap).

In May, Norway takes over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council. The plan for what Norway will do with the leadership in the next two years will be presented on Tuesday.

– We must put our issues on the agenda. Sea, climate and environment, sustainable economic development, and people in the north, says Huitfeldt.

At the same time, Norway is in a difficult situation since it is currently Russia that holds the chairmanship, which rotates between the members.

The handover usually takes place at a large official meeting with delegations from all the countries involved.

– This time it will possibly be on Teams, says the foreign minister.

Will not meet Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has invited Norway and the rest of the Arctic Council to Siberia in May to hand over the chairmanship to Norway.

– I will not participate in that. We want some form of contact, but it will be at an official level in order to hand over the chairmanship from Russia to Norway. There will not be a political ministerial meeting in Russia, says the foreign minister.

In June 2022, the other member states decided to continue activities in the Council without Russian participation due to the invasion of Ukraine.

– It was necessary to put the collaboration on hold. We could not sit around the same table as Russia and pretend that nothing had happened, says Huitfeldt.

– Most important period in the Arctic Council

The Foreign Minister emphasizes that the council is important despite the fact that political cooperation with Russia is now impossible.

– Preserving cooperation without political contact will perhaps be the most important period in the Arctic Council’s history, she says.

The council has been a place where the eight member states have met despite other political disagreements. The reason is that the areas the council collaborates on are less conflict-ridden.

So says Svein Rottem, who is a senior researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute, and has written a book about the Arctic Council.

– It is easier to collaborate on science than, for example, economics. They map environmental toxins, emissions of methane and changes in permafrost. There, the member states have common interests. It is somewhat shielded from a harsher geopolitical reality. Security policy is not a topic in the Arctic Council, says Rottem.

Svein Rottem is a senior researcher at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI).

Keeps the door open

The senior researcher believes that Norway has an ambition to keep the Arctic Council open as an arena for cooperation with Russia when the time is right.

– Without Russia, half of the Arctic is outside the Arctic Council, says Rottem.

He believes scientific cooperation through the Arctic Council will be one of the first places where we again see an opening for cooperation with Russia.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs believes it is necessary to preserve the Arctic Council.

– There are such big climate challenges in the north, and we have to work together on that. It is an important forum for indigenous people, and it must also be preserved, she says.

Cut emissions

– Climate change is happening faster in the Arctic than anywhere else on the planet, says Climate and Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide.

He believes it represents the biggest threat to the vulnerable Arctic natural diversity.

Eide says that the government is keen to prioritize the areas where climate and environmental work in the Arctic Council produces the most results.

– The Arctic Council has a collective goal of cutting black carbon emissions by 2025. As a responsible port nation, it is also important for Norway to continue the Arctic cooperation on holistic, ecosystem-based ocean management, says Eide.