Russia’s war strains Arctic Council; 7 member nations call Ukraine attack ‘flagrant violation’ of council values

Drift ice camp in the middle of the Arctic Ocean. (Timo Palo/Wikimedia Commons)

The United States and six other member nations of the Arctic Council are boycotting talks in Russia and will pause all international meetings to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“The core principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, based on international law, have long underpinned the work of the Arctic Council, a forum which Russia currently chairs,” Thursday’s joint statement reads. “In light of Russia’s flagrant violation of these principles, our representatives will not travel to Russia for meetings of the Arctic Council.”

The statement also says the seven member states are “pausing participation in all meetings of the Council and its subsidiary bodies” until it can figure out how to continue the council’s work “in view of the current circumstances.”

The Arctic Council formed in 1996 to foster the idea that the Arctic should be a zone of peace and cooperation.

Institute of the North Senior Fellow James Gamble says the disruption is unprecedented.

“Until now, we have always been able to continue cooperation in the Arctic. And that has been a flag that we fly proudly,” Gamble said. “And now, that cooperation has been interrupted.”

Gamble said he expects the tension will also disrupt cooperation between the U.S. and Russian coast guards in the Bering Sea.

He said his contacts in Russia — mostly academics and researchers — feel they aren’t getting the full story of the war and that Americans have access to better information.

“I think the main message that we have heard is that their dissatisfaction with what is happening is at a similar level to ours,” he said. “They very much oppose what’s happening in their country and the actions that their country has taken.”

The seven member countries are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the United States. The eighth member is Russia, which is in the middle of a two-year rotating chairmanship. The next meeting of senior Arctic Council leaders was supposed to be in May in Arkhangelsk, a city in Russia’s western Arctic.

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Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at lruskin@alaskapublic.org.