Outrage over the Ukraine invasion has reached the end of the earth as the Arctic slams Putin

March 9, 2022, 6:59 PM UTC

Arctic relations are getting even frostier.

Countries nearest to the North Pole have reacted to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by boycotting meetings of the Arctic Council, the only intergovernmental forum that addresses issues related to the Arctic Circle. 

The council is made up of indigenous communities and delegations from eight countries whose borders lie within the Arctic Circle, seven of which—the U.S., Canada, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark—announced in a joint statement last week that they will not participate in the coming round of Arctic Council meetings  in May, due to be held in the Russian city of Arkhangelsk.

Council members condemned Russia, whose delegation is currently acting as chairman on the Arctic Council’s rotating leadership, for its “unprovoked invasion of Ukraine” and underscored the “grave impediments to international cooperation, including in the Arctic, that Russia’s actions have caused.”

The Arctic Council did not immediately respond to Fortune’s request for comment.

The Arctic Council’s mandate is to preserve peaceful and stable relationships between nations bordering the Arctic Circle. Its work has been recognized as a “model for promoting fraternity between nations” by international academics who nominated the council for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for its diligent work in maintaining cooperative and relatively peaceful relations between the East and the West. 

The council’s work has taken on increased prominence in recent years, as temperatures in the North Pole have been rising four times faster than the global average, causing polar ice caps to melt at a fast rate.

Sea ice loss in the Arctic is creating a slew of new economic opportunities, including newly traversable shipping routes and newly accessible resources, including oil and gas deposits as well as mineral reserves of iron ore, copper, nickel, zinc phosphates, and diamonds.

Another implication of reduced sea ice cover in the Arctic is the potential militarization of the region. Perennial polar caps have historically granted Russia a natural protective barrier along its northern coastline, but the receding ice has created new geopolitical concerns for council members.

Satellite photos from 2021 show just how large Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic is, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has installed several new airfields, military bases, and sea-based nuclear missiles.

“The [Arctic] region has become an arena for power and for competition, and the eight Arctic states must adapt to this new future,” then-U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said at a 2019 meeting of the Arctic Council.

One of the Arctic Council’s directives is the exclusion of military security from its agenda, and in its statement condemning Russia, council members reaffirmed their commitment to these principles.

“We remain convinced of the enduring value of the Arctic Council for circumpolar cooperation and reiterate our support for this institution and its work,” the statement read, before criticizing Russia for its “flagrant violation of these principles.”

Indigenous communities in the Arctic have also expressed their concern over Russia’s actions in Ukraine and the country’s militarization in the region. On Monday, P.J. Akeeagok, Premier of the Nunavut territory in northern Canada, condemned Russia for the invasion, and expressed concerns that Putin’s actions would imperil the Arctic Council’s peacekeeping mandate.

“As Russia’s global investments and interests grow, we fear that Russia’s aggression will inevitably present itself into Arctic affairs,” Akeeagok wrote in a letter to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau this week.

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