By Denisova Olga
The Arctic Council has no doubts about the way Arctic affairs should be managed. There are no reasons whatsoever for brining NATO forces into the region. All of the council’s member states share this view. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke about that when he met his Icelandic counterpart Ossur Skarphedinsson on Tuesday.
“It’s up to the Arctic Council, which includes Russia and Iceland, to decide how to administer the Arctic’s affairs. There are no panicking moods among its member states, nor any ideas concerning any military measures in the Arctic. There is a consensus that any problems that could emerge should be addressed on the basis of the UN maritime convention and in line with decisions adopted by the Arctic Council. There are no reasons to expect any conflicts in the region or to drag NATO into the Arctic affairs as some would like it to happen.”
The seven-member Arctic Council comprises Russia, Denmark, Canada, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Sweden and the United States. But other countries are also seeking access to the Arctic and its rich resources, China being one of them. Although situated far from the Arctic, China sends ice-breaking expeditions to the North from time to time. Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo offered to buy 300 square km of land in the northeast of Iceland to create a tourism hub in which he was planning to invest $200 million. But Iceland rejected the offer.
This autumn, the Arctic Council allowed countries having no outlets to the Arctic seas to attend the council’s sessions as observers if they are prepared to accept the council’s decisions.
Iceland’s Foreign Minister Ossur Skarphedinsson thinks that it’s highly unlikely that any serious conflict over Arctic resources may emerge in the coming decades. As for possible differences, they could be regulated within the framework of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.
Russian journalist Viktor Litovkin, a senior editor at the Independent Military Observer newspaper, believes that new international Arctic agreements are necessary:
“Zones of responsibility have not yet been formalized in the Arctic. At present, national waters extend 12 miles out to the sea, while economic zones extend over 200 miles. The Arctic contains lots of minerals that could potentially trigger disputes. That’s why it’s important to turn the region into an area governed by law and not let it be militarized.”
Alexander Khramchikhin of the Institute for Political and Military Analysis warns that keeping the Arctic weapon-free may not be easy:
“All the Arctic countries except Russia are NATO member states. They are free to deploy their armed forces anywhere on their territory. Similarly, no one can prohibit us from deploying our weapons on our territory. At present, everyone is interested in hydrocarbons. But the status of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwestern Passage is yet to be defined.”
Lavrov and Skarphedinsson have discussed concrete projects that could be launched within the Arctic Council’s framework and pledged to cooperate in boosting the council’s activity.