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The Arctic Council: developing the Arctic despite the challenges

The outcome of the two-year chairmanship of the Russian Federation

22 may 2023

The Arctic Council is sometimes referred to in the media as the 'shadow government' of the North. It includes the Russian Federation, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the USA. It is an intergovernmental forum, founded in 1996, whose purpose is to ensure cooperation between the governments of the Arctic countries, the indigenous peoples of the Arctic region and its inhabitants in order to develop the region and protect the environment. It does not have the legislative power of the United Nations, for example, but it is an important forum for discussing cooperation in polar regions and developing a common strategy, taking into account the interests of all participants. Russia chaired the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023.

What has been accomplished?

The priorities of the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council were defined as follows: to ensure the growth of the well-being of the population of the Arctic, including indigenous peoples; to protect the environment; to promote the socio-economic development of the region; and to strengthen the Arctic Council. A total of 116 events were approved, including the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2022 (and the upcoming one in 2023), the international maritime Arctic training and research expeditions 'Learning through Research,' volunteer programmes to clean up the Arctic coast; forums and a conference to share experiences on conserving Arctic biodiversity, indigenous languages and shipbuilding. According to Nikolay Korchunov, Ambassador-at-large of the Foreign Ministry of the Russian Federation and Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Arctic Council, Russia has fully met its obligations.

Russia's chairmanship of the Arctic Council is closely linked to the dynamic economic development of the AZRF. The development of the Polar region's industrial complex, the North Sea Route, the modernisation of legal regulations in the region and comprehensive programmes to create a new, dynamic environment beyond the Arctic Circle have all been discussed at numerous forums, roundtables and conferences with international participation. Events took place in 24 cities of the Russian Federation in all 9 regions of the AZRF.


'During the Russian chairmanship, issues of sustainable development in the Arctic have become an integral part of discussions at key business venues in our country.  Our main task now is to preserve and add to the valuable legacy of the chairmanship,' noted Anton Kobyakov, Executive Secretary of the Forum's Organising Committee for Preparing and Securing the Russian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2021–2023.   


The cultural section was also very wide-ranging. The chairmanship of Russia included the large-scale festivals Teriberka, Bering Strait, Power of Colour and the Gastronomic Festival of Northern Cuisine. Our country has initiated an important discussion on preserving the intellectual property rights of indigenous peoples of the North in the context of globalisation and has supported a number of initiatives to preserve the cultural heritage of indigenous peoples and endangered languages.

Russia's scientific activities in the Arctic have intensified dramatically over the past two years, and the chairmanship of the Arctic Council has provided an opportunity to develop international contacts and implement long-planned projects. For example, the Inter-University Arctic Consortium of Political and Legal Studies was formed, which will later become the basis for a pan-Russian association of Arctic research institutes. This will create a common space for scientists from our country and abroad to work. So far, they have met at conferences on preserving the region's rare animal species and biological resources, discussed microplastics in Arctic Ocean waters and the pace of climate change, as well as undertook a number of expeditions.

The nuances of Arctic diplomacy

The Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council has been fraught with a number of challenges.


Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov noted during a video address to participants of the 13th Session of the Arctic Council that '...the Council's full-fledged activities have been "temporarily frozen" by Western member states under a completely spurious pretext of the situation in Ukraine.'


Diplomatic challenges and the need to resist pressure from a number of states have led to a paradigm shift in international relations in the Arctic on the part of our country.

Currently, Russia is actively cooperating with states that are interested in a presence in the Arctic Circle but do not have direct access there. On 5 May 2023, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree 'On the Fundamentals of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic until 2035,' from which references to the Arctic Council and the Barents/Euro-Antarctic Council have been removed. This opens up the possibility of increasing cooperation with players outside the region. These include China, India, the Middle East and Asia. For example, the Russian-Asian Arctic Research Consortium, comprising more than 10 organisations, was established within the framework of the Northern Forum. A major Asian country will also take part in the construction of the Snezhinka research base on Yamal. Also during the international conferences, a number of forward-looking agreements were reached on the participation of landlocked countries in other large-scale projects, especially in shaping the development of the North Sea Route.

However, Russia is not giving up its membership in the Arctic Council and will do its best to help resolve the controversy.


'An early resumption of the full work of the Arctic Council is in the interest of the entire international community. Russia expresses its readiness to resume the high-latitude dialogue,' Nikolay Korchunov said, summing up the challenging work of Russian diplomats.


He added that speakers from several states at the Arctic Frontiers research conference in Tromsø also spoke of the inadmissibility of revising the council's membership, as well as its effectiveness only with the participation of all eight states.

Read more Russia's Chairmanship of the Arctic Council A cross-cutting priority for the Russian Chairmanship of the Arctic Council is 'responsible governance for the sustainable Arctic.'


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