Staunton, November 27 – Moscow will assume the chairmanship of the Arctic Council next year, and there are already indications that it plans to use that position more actively to promote its immediate interests in the North and to enlarge the Council’s secretariat, a move that could cement Russian influence there for years to come.
The Russian government is already signaling that it plans an activist approach during its three-year term there, scheduling various meetings involving officials, politicians and scholars to discuss the way in which the Council can be used to promote Russian interests (pnp.ru/top/rossiya-gotovitsya-k-predsedatelstvu-v-arkticheskom-sovete.html).
The Arctic Council includes eight countries – Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, the US, Finland and Sweden as well as a number of observers, including most prominently China. There has been speculation that Moscow may press for China being upgraded to a full member, something other members appear to oppose.
But now there is a sign suggesting that Moscow may pursue a different strategy to increase its influence over the body. Russian senator Grigory Ledkov, who also heads the Association of Numerically Small Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East, is calling on Moscow to expand the Council’s secretariat (nazaccent.ru/content/34585-grigorij-ledkov-neobhodimo-usilit-rol-sekretariata.html).
Ledkov cast his proposal as a means for expanding the ability of the numerically small peoples to play a bigger role in the work of the Arctic Council, but given Moscow’s history of using such support elements to promote its power, it is all but certain that expanding the secretariat there would boost Russian influence.
And just as the Arctic is becoming ever more important because global warming is allowing for more access, so too any change in the bureaucratic arrangements of the Arctic Council that result in the creation of a larger and permanent secretariat can be counted on to give those who appoint its members a larger say in decisions.
For the next three years, that is going to be the Council’s chairman, Russia; and so controversies about this possibility are certain to increase.