Nikolai Korchunov: NATO military exercises in the Arctic raise up risks

Ambassador-at-Large of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Chairman of the Committee of Senior Officials in the Arctic Council Nikolai Korchunov, on the Day of the Diplomatic Worker, told the RIA Novosti newswire correspondent Alexandra Dibizheva about how the Russian side views the idea of banning oil and gas production in the Arctic, what risks the upcoming military exercises bear NATO beyond the Arctic Circle, and how Moscow sees the prospects for the development of the Northern Sea Route.

– How would you assess the Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council to date? Are there significant difficulties and problems? Are other council countries trying to interfere with Russia's work as chairman? What upcoming events are planned by the Russian side?

– The two-year Russian chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which began in May 2021, is being performed successfully in accordance with the goals and objectives set by the President of the Russian Federation and laid down in relevant documents, including the strategy for the development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and ensuring national security for the period up to 2035. The comprehensive program of the Russian chairmanship approved by the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation, which includes more than 100 events, is being systematically implemented to ensure progress in all major areas of interaction in the Council.

The cross-cutting priority of Russia's chairmanship in the AU is to ensure the sustainable development of the Arctic, which implies strengthening the collective leadership of the AU member countries in managing the Arctic with a balanced combination of social, economic and environmental dimensions. This priority is recorded in the declaration and strategic plan adopted at the AU ministerial session in Reykjavik in May 2021, the first long-term planning document that defines the main areas of cooperation in the Arctic region for the period up to 2030. All partners in the council support the line of the Russian chairmanship. We do not see any problems with its implementation, or attempts by other AU member countries to prevent the work of the chairmanship.

I would like to note that on June 29-30, 2021, a meeting of the Committee of Senior Officials of the Arctic Council was successfully held in Moscow, and on November 30-December 2, 2021, a CSO meeting and a plenary session of the Council were held in Salekhard with the in-person participation of more than 80 representatives of the AC member countries , permanent participants (representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North) and observers. The next meeting is in May 2022 in Arkhangelsk.

- Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke in favor of resuming the practice of meetings of northern formats at the political level. Have you discussed this with neighbors?

– Russia consistently advocates the development of constructive cooperation in the northern latitudes with all interested partners in various formats and at all levels. In this context, in particular, we support the idea put forward by Finnish President Sauli Niinistö during the country's chairmanship of the AU in 2017-2019 to hold a summit of the Arctic states. We think that such a meeting could become a significant event in determining the long-term strategic objectives for the development of the Arctic region. Besides, we take a stand in favor of resumption of the practice of annual meetings of the Chiefs of General Staff of the Armed Forces of the member states of the Arctic Council, which existed before 2014, and consider this format as an effective mechanism for building confidence and security in the Arctic. Unfortunately, the United States and some other Western partners are not yet ready to implement these and a number of other, in our opinion, very useful initiatives in the Arctic, motivating their position by the general unsatisfactory state of relations between Russia and the West.

- The United States and NATO are planning to hold the largest NATO Cold Response exercise beyond the Arctic Circle in early March 2022. How would you comment on the upcoming exercises? Do they pose a threat to Russia and its interests in the Arctic?

– We proceed from the fact that there are no issues in the Arctic that require a military solution. Russia has repeatedly expressed concern about attempts to include the Arctic region in NATO's zone of military planning and responsibility, turning the region into a theater of military operations for the alliance. In the absence of a multilateral military dialogue in the Arctic, the holding of such large-scale NATO exercises will increase tension, elevate the risks of possible miscalculations and misinterpretation of intentions, accidental incidents and unintended escalation. The consequence of this is the weakening of regional security, the growth of conflict, the narrowing of the agenda for constructive interaction, which implies an atmosphere of trust and cooperation.

I would like to recall the commitment of all Arctic states to the preservation of the Arctic as a territory of peace, stability and constructive cooperation, which was recorded in the AU Ministerial Declaration in Reykjavik on May 20, 2021.

– Have there been direct contacts between the foreign ministries of Russia and the United States on the Arctic by now during the Biden administration? Are there any areas of interaction between the countries in the Arctic, given the constant threat of sanctions from Washington and the growing activity of the US and NATO in the Arctic region?

– The Arctic is regularly discussed as part of the Russian-American political dialogue, including at the level of presidents and foreign ministers, as well as through the special representatives of the heads of state on climate issues. Practical and generally constructive interaction between Russia and the United States on this issue is developing in the Arctic Council. At the same time, it should be taken into account that the council does not deal with military security issues.

- The EU strategy in the Arctic, among other things, fixes the demand of Brussels to establish a complete ban on the extraction of coal, oil and gas in the Arctic and criticizes Russia's actions to strengthen the infrastructure to ensure its security in the Arctic region. Will the issue of banning or restricting hydrocarbons be considered in the Arctic Council?

– We took note of the draft updated EU Arctic Strategy released by the European Commission on October 13, 2021, which states its intention to seek a moratorium on oil, natural gas and coal production in the Arctic, as well as plans to work with its partners on a multilateral legal obligation to prevent further development of Arctic deposits and not to acquire such hydrocarbons if they are produced.

Russia is the largest Arctic state, which, like other coastal Arctic countries, has a special responsibility for the fate of this region. We фку concerned about the future of the Arctic, the climate change taking place there and its consequences no less than the EU, which is not an observer in the Arctic Council. We consider the sustainable development of the Arctic in a complex way - not only in its environmental, but also in social and economic dimensions. It is obvious that the mentioned plans of the EU create risks for the work of Russian economic operators in this region, for the development of a stable cargo base for the Northern Sea Route. At the same time, the Arctic is not only an integral, integrated part of the economy of our country, but also an important component of global supply and production chains. The role of the region is also high in the context of the global energy transition. In this case, we are talking about the supply of metals, rare earth elements, LNG and natural gas, which is so necessary for the production of green fuels (hydrogen, ammonia, methanol), as well as efficient transport solutions in the sphere of shipping, which will help reduce the global anthropogenic pressure, decarbonization of vulnerable ecosystems, meeting the goals and objectives of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

It is obvious that attempts to address global climate challenges by artificially restricting economic activity in the Arctic do not stand up to scrutiny, including in the context of the implementation of ESG principles. Speaking of any bans, one must understand that the consequences of such decisions will primarily affect specific consumers, in this case, European ones. They will also have a negative impact on the population of the Arctic, including its indigenous people, for whom sustainable economic activity is a fundamental prerequisite for improving their well-being. The abandonment of oil and gas resources produced in the Arctic - instead of focusing on working together to develop a set of measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through the introduction of the best available technologies is fraught with undermining the stability of the global energy market. Therefore, we cannot be concerned with regard to such assertive attempts by the European Union to assert its political ambitions in the Arctic region, extend its influence over it and weaken the prospects for its sustainable development.

As part of the Arctic Council, proposals to impose a ban on hydrocarbon production in the Arctic have not been considered and are not planned to be considered. I would like to note that the AC strategic plan for the period up to 2030, adopted in May 2021, lists the sustainable economic development of the Arctic as one of the priority goals of work. To achieve it, it is supposed to stimulate investments, promote economic activity with the active involvement of the local population, including representatives of the indigenous peoples of the North.

- Is there any response from the countries of the region to Russia's proposal on a project to combat viruses arising from the thawing of permafrost in spring? Will Moscow keep promoting it?

– As part of the Arctic Council Working Group on Sustainable Development, all members of the Council approved Russian project Biosafety in the Arctic, which provides for the joint development of a system for assessing, predicting, monitoring and informing about the risks associated with the uncontrolled transboundary transfer of dangerous infections and toxic pollutants in Arctic region.

- The Governor of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug said that the Snezhinka International Arctic Station in Yamal would be launched in 2023. What is the situation regarding its construction? Are the works on time?

- As part of the above-mentioned AU working group on sustainable development, another project proposed by Russia is being performed - to create the infrastructure of the Snezhinka International Arctic Scientific Station on carbon-free energy on the territory of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug and the Murmansk Region. Within its framework, in June 2021, the phase of design and survey work began. We hope that the station will start functioning in a timely manner.

- It was reported that the Republic of South Korea plans to participate in the construction the Snezhinka project (Snowflake). Have these plans been implemented?

– The Strategy of the Republic of Korea in the Arctic, adopted in December 2021, provides for the involvement of Seoul in the implementation of the Snezhinka project. The specific parameters of such cooperation are discussed within the profile working group of the AU.

- China also expressed its willingness to cooperate on this project. Do Russia and China cooperate on the Snezhinka project? How exactly?

– We welcome the readiness declared by Beijing to participate in the implementation of this project. We are ready to discuss with our Chinese partners the possible parameters of practical cooperation in various formats.

– India has stated that it is interested in cooperation with Russia along the Northern Sea Route. How promising can such cooperation be? Are there contacts on the details of such interaction between Moscow and Delhi? Japan has also expressed interest. Who, besides these countries, is interested in cooperation on the NSR?

– We proceed from the fact that the NSR is one of the most promising transport arteries in the world, capable of meeting the growing demand for the supply of goods and services, including between Europe and Asia. We welcome the interest of India, Japan, China, as well as the Republic of Korea, Singapore and a number of our other partners in the Asia-Pacific region, to use the NSR to realize their economic interests in the first place.

Russia, being a coastal state, is responsible for the functioning of the NSR and will do everything necessary to provide the safety of navigation and the most careful attitude to the fragile ecosystem of the Arctic. I would like to note that the volume of cargo transportation along the NSR is steadily increasing. In 2021, it exceeded 34.8 million tons (in 2020 - 32.9 million tons), and by 2024 it is planned to increase to 80 million tons. In 2021, the administration of the NSR issued 1,229 permits for ships to navigate in the waters of this highway, and only 35 applications (mostly Russian) were denied.


Source: RIA Novosti