A meeting of the Arctic Council in Iceland ended with the signing of its first strategic plan in history, a document reflecting the overarching vision of the challenges that Arctic countries expect to face and will try to counteract over the next decade.
Participants at the meeting in Reykjavik praised Iceland's two-year chairmanship, which ended on Thursday, and welcomed Russia's start for a same duration.
The council members said the new chair is expected to maintain and encourage "consensus and ensure constructive cooperation" in the organization.
The council is an international organization designed to promote cooperation in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development of the polar regions.
Speaking at the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said as the country to which the chairmanship is being transferred and the “largest Arctic state,” Russia sees as a top priority the “balanced promotion of the development of the Arctic in the social, economic and environmental domains.”
He added that Russia intends to contribute to the region’s continued adaptation to global climate change.
For this purpose, he suggested improving the environmental monitoring system, aiming at minimizing the human impact on nature.
He also said it would be useful to extend "the positive relations of the member states of the Arctic Council" to the military sphere, first of all, by resuming the dialogue of the Arctic states through the general staffs of the armed forces, and also by expanding cooperation of Arctic coast guards’ services.
He also called on his partners to take necessary steps to put into effect an agreement signed three years ago on preventing unregulated fishing in the central Arctic Ocean.
At a news conference after the meeting, Lavrov voiced a number of Russia's concerns related to NATO's presence in neighboring countries, including Norway, a council member.
For his part, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Iceland did “remarkable” work at the council helm and that the US hopes to implement the first-ever strategic plan in cooperation with its partners and Russia.
"It's fitting that we would adopt this 10-year plan for the council's 25th anniversary. It represents an important step forward and ensuring that the council becomes even more effective and cooperative for the future," Blinken said.
He added that the US is "committed to advancing a peaceful Arctic region," where cooperation prevails and climate, the environment, science, safety, and sustainable economic development benefit the people of the region.
The Arctic Council is the international organization designed to promote cooperation in the field of environmental protection and sustainable development of the polar regions.
- Lavrov, Blinken meet
Lavrov and Blinken met twice on the sidelines of the meeting, the first high-level contact between the US and Russia since President Joe Biden took office this January.
In the first meeting, both leaders admitted to having many disagreements, and during the meeting, Blinken warned his counterpart of a response "if Russia acts aggressively against us, our partners, and our allies."
At the meeting, he softened his position by saying that "the US seeks a predictable, stable relationship with Russia" and that there are many areas where the two countries' interests "intersect and overlap."
In a tweet afterwards, Blinken said he met with Lavrov "to test the proposition of a more stable and predictable relationship with Moscow.”
"I also reiterated our resolve in response to Russian actions against Ukraine and Aleksey Navalny," he wrote.
Lavrov, for his part, said that the talks with Blinken "seemed constructive."
"There are numerous roadblocks. It is not easy to clear them. But I felt that Antony Blinken and his team are determined to do that," Lavrov told reporters after the meeting.
The two met for the second time "on foot" on Thursday, on the sidelines of the council meeting.
It is symbolic that the first encounter in which Russia and the US moved from confrontational rhetoric to an attempt to fix bilateral relations occurred in Reykjavik, which hosted another Russian-US summit almost 35 years ago – a meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev seen as a watershed moment in the Cold War.
By Elena Teslova in Moscow