By Gloria Dickie
LONDON (Reuters) – Russian Arctic officials questioned on Friday the decision of their peers on the Arctic Council to boycott future talks held in Russia, calling their actions “regrettable.”
On Thursday, the Arctic Council’s seven other member countries – Canada, Finland, Denmark, the United States, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden – condemned Moscow’s “flagrant violation” of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
In response, they announced they would skip planned meetings in Russia, which currently holds the council’s rotating chairmanship, and put all work on pause indefinitely.
However, Nikolay Korchunov, Russia’s senior Arctic officials chair and an ambassador-at-large of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, warned that a temporary freeze on council activity would “inevitably lead to the accumulation of the risks and challenges to soft security in the region.”
The Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum dedicated to peaceful cooperation on matters that affect the region’s residents, does not deal with hard security.
Korchunov stressed the council’s strong history of depoliticized dialogue in high latitudes. “The Arctic should remain as a territory of peace … and thus, this unique format should not be subject to the spill-over effect of any extraregional events,” he told Reuters.
But in light of the invasion of Ukraine, which Russia calls a “special operation,” the majority of the Arctic Council felt differently.
Russia accounts for roughly a third of the entire Arctic region and is behind nearly 70% of economic activity in high latitudes.
“For us there is no alternative to uninterrupted sustainable development of our Arctic territories,” Korchunov said.
While the remainder of the Arctic Council pursued a “pause in cooperation,” Arctic representatives in Russia would refocus “the … Chairmanship toward addressing our domestic needs in the region,” Korchunov added.
All events organized under the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council, he said, would go ahead as planned, aside from official meetings with the other senior Arctic officials.
“It is of utmost importance to safeguard the project activities of the Arctic Council in order to be able to pick up where we paused and step up cooperation,” Korchunov said.
(Reporting by Gloria Dickie; Editing by Bill Berkrot)