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Cooperation on regional and global issues

10 - Relations with Russia on the Arctic

Grade: B-
Unity 4/5
Resources 2/5
Outcome 6/10
Total 12/20
Scorecard 2013: B (13/20)
Scorecard 2014: B- (11/20)

Russia is stepping up its military presence in the Arctic and so denying the EU its goal of instating cooperative and nature-friendly governance of the Arctic. 

The EU’s goals in the Arctic have always been twofold. On a philosophical level, the EU wants to see the Arctic governed in a cooperative manner that takes into account the needs of nature and native peoples. On an institutional level, it wants the Arctic countries – including Russia – to support its bid to become an observer in the Arctic Council.

Russia has been lukewarmly supportive of the EU’s bid since the EU’s vision on Arctic governance moved closer to that of Russia’s own. However, the EU’s observer status in the Arctic Council was rejected in 2013, blocked by Canada because of a dispute over the seal fur trade. By the end of 2014, this dispute was finally on the way towards being solved, so in 2015 the EU will get a new chance to test Russia’s attitudes as regards the EU’s observer status. 

In wider questions of Arctic activity, 2014 saw negative developments. Russia increased its militarisation of the Arctic, which it began in 2013. In April, Putin announced plans to build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships, and aircraft. The Arctic element was present in Russia’s huge military exercises known as Vostok 2014 (which had the Far East as its main focus). Defence Minister Sergey Shoygu announced that Russia “will have military control of the entirety of its 6,200km Arctic coastal zone by the end of 2014”.

The September round of sanctions that focused on energy issues also affected prospects for deep-sea drilling in the Arctic. Western companies are banned from developing new cooperation projects with Russia, but existing projects were not directly affected (although over-compliance may halt some of them).

New disputes may emerge in 2015 on the division of the Arctic’s vast, resource-rich territory, since several littoral states – including Russia and EU member Denmark – have submitted overlapping claims to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.