Break the ice curtain? Russia, Canada and Arctic security in a changing circumpolar world.


Break the ice curtain? Russia, Canada and Arctic security in a changing circumpolar world.

In 2019, the Canadian Global Affairs Institute published the report "Breaking the Ice Curtain? Russia, Canada and Arctic Security in a Changing Circumpolar World". The articles by Canadian, American and Russian experts included in the report are the result of workshops and conferences that the Institute held throughout 2018.

The Canadian Institute of International Relations is an independent research institute based in Calgary and Ottawa. It is ranked 7th out of 46 best Analysis Centres in Canada and Mexico of University of Pennsylvania's 2019 Factories of Thought rankings.

The key question raised in the report is whether Russia and Canada are able to maintain and develop cooperation in the Arctic, bilaterally and multilaterally, against the backdrop of Russian and Canadian national security interests in the Arctic, the changing situation in the region, and the general crisis in relations between Russia and the West, given thedifferences in the positions of Russia and Canada on many other global policy issues. The main question is whether the two Arctic giants, Russia and Canada, are interested in maintaining stable and predictable relations at high latitudes.

The authors emphasize that Canada and Russia have enough common interests on the development of the Arctic to continue cooperation, although the level of trust between Russia and Western actors in the Arctic is declining.

One of the reasons for this is the lack of transparency and  dialogue on hard security issues between the military. Until 2014, regular meetings of the Chiefs of Staff of the Arctic Council states were held. Against the background of the Ukrainian crisis in 2014, these contacts were interrupted. The assessment of military and non-military threats by Western states has not changed in the short term, but the feeling of uncertainty about the development of military and political situation in the region. Therefore, one of the reasons for the negative development may be the wrong interpretation of the parties' military activities. In this regard, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov supports the renewal of the previous practice when the Chiefs of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Arctic Council countries met to ensure a proper level of trust. Such meetings could be resumed, starting with expert consultations.

In the section "New Arctic Strategic Triangle Environment" The New Arctic Strategic Triangle (NASTE) Rob Hubert draws our attention to the emerging triangle Russia-USA-China, which is projected from a global level to a regional level and entails the pulling of tension into the Arctic region. He also warns that Canada will be "squeezed" between the three powers as Russia seeks to regain its leadership and, in his view, is building military capacity in the Arctic; China's activities in the region are gaining momentum and their goals are not clear yet; the U.S. don't consider Canada as its main partner in the Arctic issues and don't take its national interests into account during the shaping of its Arctic policy.

The authors of the “Tale of Two Russia” section, Troy Buffard, Andrea Sharron, Jim Fergasson, talk about the dual role of Russia. On the one hand, the role of the “liberal internationalist”, on the other hand, the “aggressive revisionist”. Russia plays the first role in the Arctic, following the principles of international law and multilateral cooperation. Russia plays the second role in the “rest of the world“, “annexing“ Crimea, taking part in the Skripal affair, interfering in the electoral process in Western states. The authors of this section conclude that the relationship between “close competitors” is always a combination of cooperation and rivalry depending. The first step for Western analysts and leaders is to realize that Russia's cooperative behavior and interaction with it on Arctic issues can be productive and beneficial. The second step is strategic planning for protection from military threats, including the ones that come from Russia.

A number of authors point out the low level of conflict in the Arctic region and believe that both from a military and political point of view, the situation in the Arctic remains stable and under control.

At the same time, the experts emphasize the necessity of distinguising "symbolism from substance" and not to rely only on the opinion of alarmists and journalists who exaggerate the scale of maneuvers in the area of strict security, arms race, competition for resources, the rate of ice melting. Part of the problem is the low level of awareness of Russian policy in the Arctic region and of Canadian Arctic policy, especially among non-specialists on Arctic issues, journalists, and the public. The aim of this report is to fill this gap, at least partially.

It is important to note that Russia and Canada, like most other Arctic states, continue to operate in the Arctic under international law and existing agreements between the states. They also support support the idea of ​​multilateral cooperation within the Arctic Council. Thus, the Arctic Council remains a key platform for cooperation, protected from ideologization and politicization.

Although general political differences at the global level are beginning to have an impact on engagement in the Arctic region. For example, in 2019, at a meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Arctic Council countries, it was not possible to sign a final declaration for the first time , which traditionally confirms the achievements of the outgoing chairman and provides recommendations for the next. This time it was planned to include a plan for strategic cooperation on the Arctic until 2025. The signing failed due to the US position on climate. The U.S. has refused to mention the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN sustainable development goals in the declaration. In addition, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo criticized Russia's struggle for influence in the Arctic and China's New Silk Road project.

The sanctions regime creates restrictions on economic cooperation between Russian business and western companies in the region, and this applies to Russian-Canadian cooperation. For example, the joint venture between China's Cosco and Canada's Teekay, which owns and operates Arc7 ice class LNG tankers for the Yamal LNG project, had to change its shareholder structure in order to continue supplying Yamal LNG to NOVATEK.

Among the issues on which cooperation between Russia and Canada is possible: questions of search and rescue at sea; oil spill prevention; biodiversity conservation, shipping issues, scientific cooperation. These issues are mainly addressed in multilateral formats, with Russia and Canada as active participants.

The authors of the report emphasize that world crises are inevitable, however, it is necessary to avoid a situation where they will have a comprehensive impact on those areas and regions where the common interests of the parties remain. Therefore, they express the hope that cooperation in the Arctic will develop in a manner that responds to and takes into account the national and regional interests of all the parties.


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