Nunatsiaq Online
NEWS: Around the Arctic April 13, 2015 - 8:21 am

Russian minister backs away from Iqaluit Arctic Council meeting

Signing of Arctic oil spill response agreement could be postponed

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
At the May 15, 2013 Arctic Council ministerial in Kiruna, Sweden, presided over by Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, centre, at the Kiruna town hall, signed an Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. (FILE PHOTO)
At the May 15, 2013 Arctic Council ministerial in Kiruna, Sweden, presided over by Sweden's foreign minister, Carl Bildt, centre, at the Kiruna town hall, signed an Agreement on Cooperation on Marine Oil Pollution Preparedness and Response in the Arctic. (FILE PHOTO)

The countdown is on: in less than two weeks, the top foreign ministers from the eight Arctic Council-member nations — Canada, the United States, Russia, Iceland, Denmark, Finland, Sweden and Iceland are supposed to meet in Iqaluit.

But Russia’s foreign minister will not attend — instead Russia will be represented by its environment minister.

“Due to [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov’s prior commitments, as well as extraordinary recent international developments which require his personal involvement, the Russian delegation at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting will be headed by [Environment Minister] Sergei Donskoi,” a spokesperson from the Russian embassy wrote in a recent email, Global News reported April 12.

Nunatsiaq News reported last month that bad blood between Canada and Russia, arising from the Ukraine conflict,  would see Lavrov stay home and possibly derail the expected signing of an Arctic Council oil spill response action plan April 24 in Iqaluit.

The Russian-language newspaper Izvestia claimed that Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson did not want to be seen at the Iqaluit meeting with senior Russian officials.

“Canadian Foreign Minister Rob Nicholson has refused to go to a meeting,” Izvestia claimed, saying the Canadian foreign affairs department would send Canadian senior Arctic official Susan Harper instead.

Lavrov’s attendance at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting was said then to be also “questionable.”

Izvestia, which follows an editorial line that is highly sympathetic to the Putin regime, based its story on interviews with senior Russian officials.

Because the Arctic Council makes all decisions by consensus — which means its agreements require the consent of all eight nation states — a single dissenter can block any deal.

The oil spill action plan flows from a legally binding agreement on oil spill prevention and response that the Arctic Council minister signed at their May 15, 2013 meeting in Kiruna, Sweden.

At that meeting, the Arctic Council ministers mandated the creation of an international task force which was given the job of producing an action plan for the eight ministers to sign at the April 2015 meeting in Iqaluit.

The Izvestia article said although the oil spill response action plan may not be signed in Iqaluit, no one has “refused” to sign it and that a signing may occur at “a later stage.”

However, foreign affairs ministers have not always represented Canada at the Arctic Council ministerial meetings — Canada’s foreign affairs ministers represented Canada at the Arctic Council ministerial meetings in 1998, 2002 and 2009, and other member-nations have also delegated other ministers to represent them at these meetings held every two years.

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