Denmark Warns of Renewed Russian Assertiveness in the Arctic

The Arctic risks following Ukraine and Syria as the next theater of Russia’s renewed international assertiveness, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen warned Wednesday.

"Six months ago I would have said the Russians fortunately were keeping the Arctic" separate from other foreign policy strategies being pursued,’’ Jensen said in an interview in Reykjavik. Now Russia is “mixing the issues.”

His comments follow reports that Russia plans to open new bases there.

Jensen said the Nordic governments had a responsibility to "create more security and stability" so as to "de-escalate’’ any tension.

Russia plays a crucial role in the region as a member of the Arctic Council, a body designed to discuss issues such as oil explorations, climate change and shipping.

It has been a recalcitrant member of the group, possibly due to "frustration over their position on other defense issues," Jensen said. They sent low level delegations to meetings, meaning few decisions were taken.

Now, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has started to take an interest, "so I’m hopeful we can start a dialog with them," Jensen said.

Denmark and Russia are so far the only countries to have made territorial claims in the Arctic, Jensen said, adding he was waiting to see what Norway and the new Canadian government will do.

Government ministers and leaders from the Nordic countries and the Baltics are in the Icelandic capital this week for an annual get together on fostering ties. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron is expected to join them later on Wednesday and Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference ahead of his arrival, the Nordic and Baltic premiers decried Russia’s actions in Ukraine following its annexation of Crimea.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg noted that while they all agreed that Russia’s behavior in Ukraine was "unacceptable," it is "not in our interest to isolate Russia."

"We can improve dialog, but that must be done without compromising our values," Solberg added.

Her Danish colleague, Lars Loekke Rasmussen, said much of the discussion in Iceland had been about "countering Russian propaganda."

NATO has a Strategic Communications Centre of Excellence, a facility set up in Latvia to deal with cyber warfare. The center has received renewed attention following Russian efforts to push its version of events in Ukraine via social media.

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