By Paul Goble
Now that the seven other members are continuing to meet as the Arctic Council but without the presence of a Russian representative who according to its bylaws is chairman in office until next year, Moscow may choose to create an alternative organization for the Arctic consisting of itself, China and some other countries.
Dmitry Zhuravlyev, the head of the Moscow Institute of Regional Problems, says that creating such an alternative organization and including China among its members is a possibility, given that “the Chinese have many icebreakers and are very interested” given that the West has blocked China from membership in the Arctic Council (svpressa.ru/politic/article/336567/).
Were Moscow to take this step, that would lead to a major shift in the geoeconomics and geopolitics of the Far North, with Moscow using China to push Russia’s vision of the Arctic and with Beijing using Russia’s opening of such a group to advance its own goals, confident that even if the current standoff ends, a reconstituted Arctic Council would likely then include China.
This is the latest move in the Arctic chessboard. At the end of last year when Russia assumed the chairmanship, it said it wanted to change both the way the Council operated and the issues it focused on, despite the objections of other Arctic Council members (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2021/10/arctic-region-now-at-state-of.html).
Moscow expected the West to yield eventually, but Putin’s invasion of Ukraine led all the Arctic Council members except Russia of course to declare that they were putting the operation of the Council on hold for the time being (windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/04/west-will-blink-in-arctic-because-of.html and windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2022/03/putins-war-in-ukraine-kills-off-moscows.html).
Now the seven have said they will meet without Russia as a rump Arctic Council in order to continue cooperation and not allow existing programs all support from collapsing (thebarentsobserver.com/ru/arktika/2022/06/sem-zapadnyh-stran-vozobnovyat-rabotu-v-arkticheskom-sovete-v-ogranichennom-rezhime).
Moscow is outraged and expects others to be as well. As the Russian ambassador to the US put it, the Western “Seven” may be able to exclude Russia from the Council but they “do not know how to exclude it from the Arctic” and won’t be effective in their work as long as Russia isn’t part of it (svpressa.ru/politic/article/336567/).
Given the centrality of the Arctic in Putin’s thinking and the importance of the Northern Sea Route in Moscow’s economic and strategic calculations, Moscow may see the creation of an “alternative” to the existing Arctic Council as a good countermove, especially because it will appeal to China which in this way will gain a seat at this increasingly important table.
Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .