WASHINGTON/MOSCOW, May 18 (Reuters) - With a warming climate
melting more Arctic ice cover and global industries eager to
exploit the region for shipping, fishing, drilling and mining,
the United States and Russia sounded a rare, cooperative note
going into an Arctic meeting this week.
The conciliatory tone was encouraging to governments, local
residents, investors and environmental groups worried about a
lack of regulations and potential environmental damage as
industries look northward to the world's largest remaining oil,
gas and mineral deposits.
"Our vision ... is very much one of cooperation," U.S. State
Department Arctic Envoy Jim de Hart told Reuters in an interview
ahead of the biennial meeting of the eight Arctic Council
nations. "It's about action on climate change. Its about good
science ... and keeping the region peaceful.
In Moscow, senior Arctic Council official Nikolai Korchunov
also struck a conciliatory tone, telling a briefing last week
that Moscow and Washington have "very constructive" dialogue at
the Arctic Council.
U.S. President Joe Biden's concern about fighting climate
change, a U-Turn in Washington's position, was especially
welcome at a time when arctic temperatures are rising faster
than the global average and summertime sea ice is increasingly
sparse and thin.
Some worried, however, that deep U.S.-Russian disagreements
over other, unrelated issues could hinder talks between U.S.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart,
Since Biden was inaugurated in January, Washington and
Moscow have clashed over charges of Russian interference in the
U.S. presidential election; challenges of Ukraine's sovereignty;
Moscow's jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny; and U.S.
support of democracy activists in Russia and Belarus.
Both governments are also wary of each other's military
activity in the Arctic, and Washington is watching China's
economic moves there.
Fighting climate change will be Washington's priority, de
Hart told Reuters. That is a sea change from former President
Donald Trump, whose delegate to the 2019 Arctic Council meeting
blocked a declaration saying climate change was a serious
"There's a very great understanding of the problems facing
the Arctic region and the interest of our countries in
developing collective approaches to managing the region's
development," Korchunov said.
Russia is to take the Councils rotating leadership from
Iceland until 2023. Other nations on the Council are Canada,
Sweden, Finland, Norway and Denmark, with indigenous populations
"We don't have any friction, Korchunov said. Yes, there
can be disagreement on some issues, but ... they are generally
tactical in nature.
The U.S. vote in 2019 against the climate change declaration
made it the first such measure to fail since the group was
formed in 1996, and de Hart pledged there would not be a repeat
"I am very confident that, at this ministerial, there will
be agreement," de Hart said. "What you will see is climate
elevated as a priority for the Arctic Council and for its future
As Washington advocates for sustainable development, it is
keeping an eye on China's long-term ambitions and billions of
dollars of investment in the Arctic. China is not an Arctic
Council member but it declared itself a near-Arctic nation in
2018 and said it wanted to participate in the governance of the
"We want the Arctic to be open for business, de Hart said.
By that I mean business and investment according to high
standards respects environmental protection, respects local
Chinese investors have bid unsuccessfully to open mines in
Canada and Greenland, which the U.S. Geological Survey says has
the worlds biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth minerals.
Another U.S. concern is the Russian military, de Hart said,
while Korchunov said Moscow has its eyes on any NATO moves to
expand in the region.
"We just have to have our eyes open and make sure that we're
examining those activities through a national security lens," de
Hart said. "Some of (Russia's) military activities and the
behavior of some of its forces are not transparent, provocative
and sometimes unprofessional, and that's a concern.
"It would be important for us to have the constructive
spirit of cooperation that is in the Arctic Council ... in the
military-political sphere," Korchunov said.
On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed
that council members have heads of their respected armed forces
meet regularly to defuse any tensions that arise.
Lavrov accused Norway of trying to justify a greater NATO
presence in the Arctic and dismissed the western alliance's
concerns over increasing Russian military activity in the
"It's long been well known to everyone that this is our
territory, this is our land, we are responsible for ensuring
that our Arctic coast is safe. And everything our country does
there is absolutely legal and legitimate," he said.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington and Tom Balmforth in
Moscow; Editing by Katy Daigle and David Gregorio)