Words’ battle this week between the top United States and Russian diplomats is the latest sign of increasing tensions between world powers racing to seize Arctic resources made more accessible by climate change.
Ministers gathering in Reykjavik (capital of Iceland) for a meeting of the Arctic Council were not due to discuss security. But the matter-dominated conversations on the sidelines after Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Affairs Minister, declared ahead of the summit that the Arctic is their land and their waters.
On Thursday, Lavrov said after reporters asked him about what Russia sees as increased American military activity in the region that they are incredibly anxious about what is going on close to their borders. They are going to undertake necessary actions to ensure their security, but their precedence is to ensure dialogue.
This week at the summit, which marked Iceland’s handover of the Arctic Council presidency to the Russian Federation for the following two years, most representatives called for the eight-country body to remain focused on peaceful cooperation. But Lavrov beckoned that Moscow could take a different approach.
He said that within the coming two years, they would create proper conditions so proper security would be part of the work of the Arctic Council. Moreover, they believe they could revitalize this mechanism if they decide so.
The Arctic is one of the most influenced by climate change in the region and is warming more than twofold as fast as the rest of the planet. Ice that used to cover the zone’s waters for most of the year is contracting. That is opening new shipping ways and creating the prospect of more manageable access to once-trapped resources such as natural oil, gas, and minerals.
Including Russia, world powers have rushed to claim some of these assets, leading to a more robust military presence that has resulted in a series of conflicts.
Russian airplanes buzzed last year United States fishing boats on the northern Bering Sea during a war game or a military exercise. America deployed bombers in February to Norway for the first time, strengthening its presence in the region, and the two nations signed a new promise in April to enhance military cooperation.
Antony Blinken, U.S. State Secretary, said at the Arctic Council’s meeting Thursday that the Arctic as a zone for strategic competition has seized the attention of the world, but the Arctic is more than an economically or strategically significant region. And its mark of excellence has been and must remain peaceful cooperation.
The Arctic Council, which gathers the eight Arctic countries: Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, Canada, Finland, Russia, Norway, and America and indigenous peoples, has no mandate to address security stuff. These used to be discussed at a separate Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, but Russian Federation was excluded from that forum, as it was from the ‘Group of Eight’ advanced economies, following its annexation of Crimea in 2014 from Ukraine.
The Arctic is home to nearly 30% of the world’s undiscovered gas reserves
According to a report co-authored by a senior fellow at the Council on Strategic Risks, Kate Guy, published this week, the Arctic is home to nearly thirty percent of the world’s undiscovered but recoverable gas reserves and thirteen percent of undiscovered oil reserves. Private shipping activity has increased twenty-five percent in past years.
The report found that having additional tankers and fishing boats in the waters could lead to more collisions, with search and rescue operations (SAR) often performed by the military.
Kate Guy said Russia is making the so-called Northern Sea Route, which runs along its Arctic coastline, a significant part of its strategy to increase natural gas exports to Asia. At the same time, the People’s Republic of China has expressed its interest in small islands such as Svalbard.
The Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska’s President, James Stotts, said at the summit they’re concerned about the level of recent bitter and provocative rhetoric. They do not want to see their homeland turned into a region of competition and conflict; they do not desire to see their world overrun with other people’s matters.