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Sustainable development without "reinventing the wheel": Results of the roundtable on the agenda of the Arctic Council

The general state of tensions in relations between Russia and the West will not affect activities of the Arctic Council if the Arctic States together take a pragmatic approach. What will be specific steps in that direction and what will Russia propose while chairing the Council? Experts from the Arctic States discussed these and other issues during roundtable "The Arctic Council and the Russia's Chairmanship: Problems and Priorities" hosted by the Gorchakov Fund and the Information and Analytics Center of the Project Office for the Development of the Arctic (PORA).

Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, foreign affairs experts, historians and economists from the member countries of the Arctic Council attended the event.

A recording of the event is available on the YouTube channel of the Gorchakov Fund in Russian and English.

Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador at Large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, Senior Arctic Official of Russia to the Arctic Council, described main aspects of the Russia's strategy during its chairmanship of the Arctic Council. According to Mr. Korchunov, priorities of that strategy will include four areas: a human dimension of the problems in the Arctic region, environmental protection including issues caused by the climate change, socioeconomic development and improvement of effectiveness of the Arctic Council.

"The Arctic Council is an international forum, which arrives at decisions by means of a consensus without enforcing its recommendations. The Council develops its political agenda and makes political decisions that do not have any legal power", emphasized Svein Rottem, Senior Research Fellow at the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (Norway).

According to Timo Koivurova, Research Professor of the Arctic Centre at University of Lapland (Finland), despite the fact that the chairmanship in the Arctic Council does not transfer all power to one country, countries-chairs leave their mark in the work of the Arctic Council by choosing what areas of sustainable development to emphasize.

Dr. Alexander Sergunin, Professor at the Department of Theory and History of International Relations at the Faculty of International Relations of St. Petersburg State University, spoke about reasons behind the Russia's refusal to transform the Arctic Council from a discussion forum into a fully functional international organization and including the issues of "hard" security into its agenda. He also mentioned the problems of Russian-US relations in the north.

In order to satisfy the need in a dialogue on security issues, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that the Arctic States resumed consultations on the level of chiefs of stuff of military security. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rejected that proposal during his meeting with Lavrov in Reykjavik. Thus, issues of military security in the Arctic still remain without a platform for the dialogue.
"The official US standpoint on that issue is ambiguous, however, many western experts on the Arctic support the idea expressed by Sergey Lavrov", stressed Pavel Devyatkin, Research Associate and Leadership Group member at the Arctic Institute (USA). "Though military issues are not part of the agenda of the Arctic Council, we can observe increasing calls for military contacts among the Arctic States. The proposal made by Russia about organizing roundtables for military experts seems appropriate", added the expert.

Dr. Sergey Nikonorov, Director of the Center for Studies of Economic Problems of Arctic Development at the Faculty of Economics at Lomonosov Moscow State University, presented a rating of sustainable development of the Arctic States to the attendees. The rating provided an assessment of sustainable development of the members of the Arctic Council in 2011-2030.

The expert reminded that the goal of the Arctic Economic Council, which had been established in 2014, was to expand economic cooperation in the region and increase its investment attractiveness. AEC includes all permanent members of the Arctic Council. Russia is represented in AEC by Sovkomflot, Rosneft and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Sergey Nikonorov believes that in 2021-2023 the Arctic Economic Council in partnership with the Arctic Council could focus on economic diversification of the Arctic and provide it with more sustainability: "decarbonization" of energy, standards of entrepreneurship, and exchange of advanced green technologies.

Read more in Russian here