Lessons to Learn from the International Arctic Forum

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Russia took active part in the multilateral dialogue on the most important regional problems at the International Arctic Forum. Alexander Sergunin (Ph.D. in Political Science, Professor at St. Petersburg State University) commented on the key moments of Vladimir Putin’s speech and also touched upon the question of Forum’s importance for the development of the Russian North:

– The key message of Vladimir Putin’s speech, as well as of his previous speeches on the similar subjects, was that Arctic cooperation should be taken off the table of the current tense relations between Russia and the West. It is necessary to focus on real interests of Arctic and non-Arctic states in the Far North, rather than on imaginary contradictions. It is important to focus on what unite rather than divide Russia and other players of the Arctic region.

Talking about Vladimir Putin’s talks with the presidents of Finland and Iceland, an important thing should be mentioned. We do not know whether it was real talks of three presidents or just an exchange of views before the plenary session. In fact, what was said at the Forum is that Finland is ready to host the Arctic Forum during its presidency in the Arctic Council (2017-2019), and on the margins of the event – to organize talks of Putin and Trump. Russian president confirmed his consent to take part in the meeting, but noticed that it would demand thorough preparation.

Before the Forum Vladimir Putin hold a meeting concerning the realization of the State Program of social and economic development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation up to 2020 (adopted in 2014). There, apparently, the realization of the program was estimated and a way toward solving the existing problems of the region was outlined. Such decisions could not be taken at the Forum, since it serves as a platform for holding discussions and forging relationships, but no as a body taking decisions or concluding contracts. At the same time, there is no doubt that the Forum was of high importance to the image of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation as it demonstrated federal center’s commitment to the idea of the priority development of this region and preserving its role of a space for international cooperation.

Lev Voronkov (Ph.D. in History, Head of the North European Department of the North European and Baltic Studies Center at the MGIMO-University), in turn, drew attention to the uniqueness of this format and the specifics of international cooperation in the Arctic:

– First of all, it should be mentioned that current region’s problems cannot be tackled with the efforts of one or even two most developed and prosperous countries. In this context, cooperation in the Arctic region is a comprehensive dialogue of the participants, where the stance of each party matters. The Arctic dialogue presupposes discussing and solving such important problems as maritime traffic and its security protection, search-and-rescue operations, environment protection, fighting illegal trafficking and migration. It is obvious that none of these issues can be settled without Russia.

Turning back to the essence of the Arctic Forum, I would like to, first of all, emphasize the unique format of the event. It is based on the consensus principle, when parties work out a compromise road map which is subject to compulsory implementation. So, this is an effective means of solving region’s problems.

Voluntary participation is one of the crucial cooperation principles. Consequently, we may say that Arctic cooperation is balanced and stable. It is noteworthy that international security is beyond the scope of the discussion, but at the same time the agenda is rich and sustainable due to the issues discussed.

The Arctic is among the few regions on which sanctions were not imposed or where they did not work. All parties have fundamental, in general concurring, interests. This ensures meaningful cooperation even in the context of the existing tensions. In particular, already after international sanctions had been imposed, the agreement on cooperation over fighting illegal fishing in the central Arctic Ocean and some other agreements were reached.

The last issue I want to touch upon concerns appearing from to time to time in mass media opinions that the Arctic region today is a sort of a “battlefield” for geopolitical rivalry, aimed at delimitation of spheres of influence. Of course, there is a ring of truth in it, but it should be mentioned that all territorial issues of the parties are regulated by 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. In practice this means that if a state aspires to expand its territory due to the shelf, these claims should be justified and confirmed by experts. In other words, diplomats start their work in the Arctic region only after scientists, and this once again proves that a constructive multilateral dialogue amidst current foreign policy agenda is still possible.

Photo: ©Artyom Geodakyan / TASS

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