Big blow for the Barents Council as Sveriges FM skips the ministerial meeting in Tromsø and prioritises hosting a NATO seminar
Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is very enthusiastic when he talks about Europe’s northernmost cross – border political and practical cooperation.
“It goes without saying that in the harsh climate and environment of the north, economic activity can only be carried out through joint efforts and exchange of experience,” Lavrov said ahead of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council meeting in Tromsø, northern Norway. on Monday and Tuesday.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s press service confirms in an email to the Barents Observer that Lavrov will attend the meeting in person.
A long interview with Lavrov about the role of Barents cooperation is posted on the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs portal.
Ministerial meetings in the Council every two years rotate between the four member states Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Cross-border regional Barents cooperation began in January 1993, one year after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
When the Russian government plane lands at the airport in Tromsø on Monday afternoon, it is Sergey Lavrov’s first visit to a NATO country after his ministry on October 18 decided to suspend Russia’s diplomatic mission to NATO. In addition, staff at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s office in Moscow will be deprived of their accreditation in November.
The move came in response to the deportation of eight diplomats from Russia’s embassy to the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels earlier in October. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the decision came in response to an increase in Russia’s malicious activities.
It was Jens Stoltenberg’s father, Thorvald Stoltenberg, who initiated the Euro – Arctic Barents cooperation when he was Norway’s Foreign Minister in the early 1990s.
Sweden prioritises NATO seminar
Sweden, hosting the Barents Council 2019 meeting in Umeå, is the only one of the four countries in northernmost Europe that will not be represented with its foreign minister in Tromsø.
Instead of going to Tromsø, Foreign Minister Ann Linde will host a seminar on “Security Challenges in the Baltics” in Stockholm. The seminar will be attended by members of the North Atlantic Council, the main political decision-making body within NATO.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg will also be in Stockholm on October 26, the alliance informs.
But since Foreign Minister Ann Linde prioritises the NATO meeting at home, Stockholm will be presented in Tromsø with a high-level representative, the organizers of the Council meeting inform. The associated members Denmark, Iceland and the European Commission will do the same.
“I am very pleased to welcome NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the NATO countries’ ambassadors to Sweden next week. The partnership is an important part of Swedish security and defense policy and the visit is a natural part of the partnership. The visit gives Sweden and Finland the opportunity to give our views on the situation in the immediate area, our close bilateral cooperation and the security policy development in a broader sense “, says Ann Linde in a statement published in the Swedish government portal.
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto will fly north to Tromsø more or less immediately after his meeting with Jens Stoltenberg in Helsinki on Monday 25 October.
Confidence-building, but …
While tensions between NATO and Moscow are rising, the Nordic countries and Russia have always highlighted Barents co-operation to facilitate low tensions and confidence-building. Sergey Lavrov develops:
In the difficult international situation, regional forms of interaction function as an important channel for dialogue that makes it possible to discuss common issues for the region in a business and constructive way and carry out important practical work for people who live here. ”
The Russian Foreign Minister continues: “In this sense, the Barents Euro-Arctic Cooperation is probably the most successful form of multilateral cooperation in northern Europe because it demonstrates a lasting immunity to changing political conditions.”
What Lavrov did not mention in the interview is how Russia’s federal security service, the FSB, over the past decade has systematically wound up people-to-people cooperation across borders by cracking down on the country’s NGOs, media and NGOs. systemic opposition.
Many NGOs in the field of human rights, young people, indigenous peoples, the environment and LGBT in the Russian part of the Barents Cooperation have ceased their activities after being branded as “foreign agents” by the Ministry of Justice.
Since 2012, the Kremlin has used the law on “foreign agents” to demonize civil society and the media, which accept foreign funding and carry out what authorities at any given time define as political activity.
For Sergey Lavrov, meetings of the Barents Council are nothing new. He first attended the ministerial meeting in Harstad, Norway, in 2005 when Jonas Gahr Støre was newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in Jens Stoltenberg’s coalition government.
Støre is now Norway’s new prime minister after winning the parliamentary elections in September. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs in Norway is Anniken Huitfeldt, the woman who in recent years has been chair of the Riksdag’s standing committee on foreign and defense affairs. Like former Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide, Huitfeldt has also highlighted the importance of maintaining a dialogue with Russia on issues of common importance, especially in the north where the two countries share a 198-kilometer-long land border and sea border across the Barents Sea to the Arctic Sea.
The Barents Council’s ministerial meeting starts at 9.00 (CET) on October 26 and will be livestreamad by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Note to the reader: This article was updated on October 24 with a quote from Sweden’s Foreign Minister Ann Linde.