The West risks losing control of the Arctic | Polarjournal
A large part of the land mass around the North Pole belongs to Russia. With increasing global warming and melting ice, the Northern Sea Route (blue) will become more important. The sea route through the Arctic is the shortest connection between Asia and Europe. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

The Western mistrust and sanctions have brought Russia and China closer together in the Arctic. The US is now concerned about the growing cooperation and risks losing control of the Arctic to China and Russia. Moscow had to realign its export flows due to the sanctions imposed after the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The two countries are joining forces to increase the supply of oil and LNG.

Russia’s growing willingness to let China into the Arctic shows the reality of their partnership and its potential counterweight to the US-led alliances. Technically, the West, especially the USA, with only one functioning icebreaker, has little to offer Russia and its superiority in ice-going means of transportation.

The nuclear icebreaker “50 Let Pobedy” is one of the most powerful icebreakers. There are currently 8 nuclear-powered icebreakers in use to keep the Northeast Passage open, with three more under construction. There are also some diesel-electric icebreakers that operate in rivers. (Photo: Heiner Kubny)

Russia turns to the east

In particular, it is clear that Moscow is increasingly relying on Chinese companies to develop the Northern Sea Route. Russia once tried to limit the role of the People’s Republic of China in the Arctic, according to a report by Strider Technologies.

That changed when Moscow became isolated in the course of the war in Ukraine.

The study found that a total of 234 Chinese companies registered to operate in the Russian-controlled Arctic region in the 18 months to June 2023. This is 87% more than two years earlier. This is according to the conclusion of Strider Technologies, writes the Daily Mail.

The use of the Northern Sea Route is also increasing. In 2023, at least 11 ships transported Russian crude oil to China along this Arctic route. Only one passage was registered in the previous year.

According to Eric Levesque, co-founder of Strider Technologies, the Arctic remains an afterthought for the United States. The US has not prioritized this issue and Russia is now probably ten years or more ahead of the US.

Nikolai Korchunov: Russia cannot rule out withdrawing from the Arctic Council if its activities do not correspond to Moscow’s interests. (Photo: Roscongress Foundation)

Russia threatens to withdraw from the Arctic Council

On February 6, 2024, Foreign Ministry Special Envoy Nikolai Korchunov said that Russia could withdraw from the Arctic Council if its activities do not meet Moscow’s interests. Russian presidential press spokesman Dmitry Peskov confirmed this information and added that Russia would continue to participate in the Arctic Council, but might leave it if it no longer considered the organization effective, fair and suitable for membership.

The Arctic Council is the most important body for cooperation between the eight countries that actually govern the region. The members of the Council are Russia, Canada, the USA, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Iceland and Sweden. The chairmanship of the organization was transferred to the Russian Federation at a ministerial meeting in Reykjavik in spring 2021.

However, their relationship with other board members ended in 2022, after the start of the invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops.

According to Korchunov, Norway, which now holds the presidency of the organization, is trying to resume the Council’s work in full, but has no support from the other Council members.

Russia stops payments to the Arctic Council

Russia stopped paying its annual contributions to the Arctic Council on 14.02.2024. The ministry said in a statement: “Currently, the payment of Russia’s annual contributions to the Arctic Council budget is suspended until the practical work in this format is resumed with the participation of all member countries.”

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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