Staunton, May 13 – During its two-year chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Moscow has indicated that it has two goals: sidelining Western NGOs which it believes are being used to undermine Russian interests in the North and restoring military-to-military consultations among Arctic powers that were suspended in 2014.
Earlier this week, Yury Averyanov, the first deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, said that Moscow is anything but pleased with the role Western environmentalist and ethnic NGOs are playing in the North because it views these groups as agents of Western businesses and governments (scrf.gov.ru/news/speeches/2985/).
“We often see Western environmentalists protest loudly against our projects” even though they say little or nothing about what Western companies and governments are doing, an imbalance that suggests they deserve less of a hearing than they have been getting in recent years in the Arctic Council and other venues, he says.
Instead, he says, Russia hopes for government-to-government consultations on “practical questions” like coastal defense, the fishing industry and shipping. According to the Russian security official, “this is a good model” for cooperation between Russia and American relations, one that “starts with practical questions and then moves to more general issues.”
Averyanov’s remarks extend those of Nikolay Kurchunov, Russia’s ambassador for Arctic affairs. In Kommersant in January, the diplomat said that Moscow will not “militarize” the Council, that is “excluded” by the agreement forming the group, but does want to restore the military-to-military consultations that took place under its auspices prior to 2014 (kommersant.ru/doc/4641929 and thebarentsobserver.com/ru/arktika/2021/05/rossiya-ne-budet-otdelno-podnimat-temu-militarizacii-v-ramkah-predsedatelstva-v).
“So as to prevent a degradation of the military-political situation in the Arctic, Russia is interested in supporting the resumption of the annual meetings between Arctic leaders of the general staffs that was halted in 2014,” he says. As a first step, the Russian side will call for consultations at the levels of military experts.
On the one hand, Moscow clearly sees the Arctic Council as a place where it can break out of the isolation it has suffered since the Crimean Anschluss and negotiate with the West in an area it is comfortable with; and on the other, it hopes that it can reduce the influence of NGOs on the Council lest they continue their criticism of Russian policies in the North.