As the ice covers melt in the Arctic region, world powers compete to exploit the world's largest remaining oil, gas and mineral deposits.

Global warming has made the Arctic more accessible and less hostile as the rising temperatures allow humans to access the region without much risk. 

In recent years, the area has quickly turned into a geopolitical flashpoint between the major powers that are part of the Arctic Council.

The officials from member states - the US, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Iceland —  will gather on Wednesday in the Icelandic capital Reykjavik for a two-day summit. 

The officials will aim to establish regulations and strengthen cooperation between the member states, as the global industries are eager to exploit the Arctic's untapped oil, gas, mineral and natural resources. 

Hence, the Council will issue a final statement approved by eight member states, as well as a common strategic plan for the next 10 years. 

"The opening up of the ocean, if you will, is not an unqualified good thing. It also represents a tremendous risk," the senior US State Department Marcia Bernicat said. 

She said recent studies show that the Arctic is warming "not at twice the rate, but three times the rate of the rest of the world."

“Our vision ... is very much one of cooperation,” U.S. State Department Arctic Envoy Jim de Hart said ahead of the biennial meeting of the eight Arctic Council nations. “It’s about action on climate change. It’s about good science ... and keeping the region peaceful” the US envoy said. 

In Moscow, senior Arctic Council official Nikolai Korchunov also struck a conciliatory tone, telling a briefing last week that Moscow and Washington will have a “very constructive” dialogue at the Arctic Council.

The Biden administration wants to use climate issues to explore possibilities for cooperation with Moscow, which will hold the rotating presidency of the Arctic Council for the next two years.

There are concerns, however. The competing foreign policies of the US and Russia could hinder the talks between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. Both Blinken and Lavrov will meet at the summit.  

Since Joe Biden was sworn in as 46th US president in January, Washington and Moscow have clashed over a range of issues: the Russian interference in the US presidential election; Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine and its jailing of the opposition figure Alexei Navalny, and US support of anti-Kremlin activists in Russia and Belarus.

Fierce competition

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday warned Western countries against staking claims in the Arctic, saying Russia is “responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe".

"It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land," Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow.

As the volume of the Arctic ice decreases year by year, global interest in the region's natural resources, its navigation routes and its strategic position has grown among members of the Arctic Council as well as China.

President Vladimir Putin in recent years has made Russia's Arctic region a strategic priority and ordered investment in military infrastructure and mineral extraction, exacerbating tensions with Arctic Council members.

Russia is hoping to make use of the Northern Sea Route shipping channel to export oil and gas to overseas markets.

Hence, Moscow has invested heavily to develop the route, which allows ships to cut the journey to Asian ports by 15 days, compared to using the traditional Suez Canal route.

In August 2017, the first vessel travelled along the Northern Sea Route without the use of icebreakers.

Moscow has also increased its military presence in the region, reopening and modernising several bases and airfields abandoned since the end of the Soviet era and deploying  S-400 air defence systems.

The United States, for its part, has pushed back against what it considers Russian and Chinese "aggressivity" in the region.

In 2018, the US Navy deployed an aircraft carrier in the Norwegian Sea for the first time since the 1980s. And in February, Washington sent strategic bombers to train in Norway to bolster its military presence in the region.

It’s not just Russia. The US is keeping an eye on China’s long-term ambitions and billions of dollars of investment in the Arctic. Even though it is not an Arctic Council member, Beijing declared itself a “near-Arctic” nation in 2018 and said it wanted to participate in the governance of it.

Chinese investors have unsuccessfully attempted to open mines in Canada and Greenland, which the US Geological Survey says has the world’s biggest undeveloped deposits of rare earth minerals.

"We're not saying no to all Chinese activities or to Chinese investment, but we are insisting on adherence to international rules and adherence to high standards," said US envoy James de Hart. Some Chinese activities, the envoy added, are of "concern" to the United States.

Source: TRT World