United States & Russian Foreign Ministers to Meet Tomorrow at Arctic Summit

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  • Meeting on sidelines of the Arctic Council Ministerial Meeting in Reykjavik 

The first high-level meeting between U.S. and Russian officials since President Joe Biden assumed office in January will take place this week, as diplomats discuss the controversial political future of the Arctic region. Moscow recently declared the Russian Arctic a massive free Trade Zone and is developing the Northern Sea Passage. The United States accuses it of installing military bases.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is set to meet with his American counterpart, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on the sidelines of the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik tomorrow, Thursday May 20.

The Arctic Council is a relatively new organization in international politics, intended to promote peaceful cooperation in the region. Russia is set to assume chairmanship of the council at this week’s meeting, but a growing chorus of voices in the West is accusing Moscow of aggressively militarizing the region. Lavrov on Tuesday rejected these concerns saying that military developments were to protect future shipping routes, secure borders and offer assistance when needed. Lavrov has stated “Everyone has known for a long time that this is our territory, our land. We are responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe, and everything that we do there is absolutely legal and legitimate.”

Russia has made no secret of its intention to assert itself as an Arctic power. As global warming has opened up greater possibilities for shipping routes and natural resource extraction, it has worked to develop military and coast guard infrastructure along its massive Arctic coast to protect and safeguard commercial activities.

Speaking at a press conference in Reykjavik on Tuesday ahead of the summit, Blinken underlined that the United States is concerned “about some of the increased military activities in the Arctic,” which he said makes the area more dangerous and “undermines the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region.”

He added that he was hopeful the council would be a platform for “sustaining and even deepening peaceful cooperation in the region.”

Much of Russia’s military expansion in the Arctic region has centered on reopening and renovating Soviet-era airfields and military infrastructure. In parallel, it has been expanding coast guard infrastructure along the Northern Sea Route, a shipping lane that runs through the Russia’s Arctic that Moscow hopes can become a major trade route.

Blinken in return has said Russia has advanced maritime claims in the Arctic that were unlawful, particularly in their regulation of foreign vessels transiting the Northern Sea Route. “That is something that we have and will respond to,” he added. The United States does not recognize the Northern Sea Route or Russia’s claims to part of the seabed off the Russian coast.

The meeting may also pave the way for a controversial summit between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, which is being touted just weeks after Biden named Putin as ‘a killer’ – remarks that did not go down especially well in Moscow.

Lavrov and Blinken have recently spoken however, in phone discussions held in February to discuss existing problems and the prospect of cooperation between the two countries.

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