'This is our land': Russia warns West against staking claims in Arctic

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Russian sailors stand guard at the Northern Fleet's flagship, the Peter the Great missile cruiser, at its Arctic base Severomorsk - AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Russian sailors stand guard at the Northern Fleet's flagship, the Peter the Great missile cruiser, at its Arctic base Severomorsk - AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Russia has warned the West against staking claims in the Arctic ahead of an international meeting on the future of the region, where strategic competition has reached levels not seen since the end of the Cold War.

Moscow has recently increased its military presence in the area while also seeking to exploit mineral resources and new shipping routes that have opened up as the ice melts.

The US, several Nordic countries, and China have also made moves to protect their own interests in the High North.

In February the US sent strategic bombers to train in Norway, a move that rattled Moscow and led to accusations that Nato was “threatening” Russia.

Last year, the British Royal Navy led a multinational task group of warships and aircraft across the region’s waters.

“It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow on Monday.

“We are responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe,” he said. “Let me emphasise once again: this is our land and our waters.”

The comments suggest charged talks ahead at a meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavik on Thursday, which will bring together the foreign ministers of Arctic states.

Russia is set to take over the two-year rotating chairmanship of the body, which also includes Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and the US.

“We have questions for our neighbours like Norway who are trying to justify the need for Nato to come into the Arctic,” Mr Lavrov added.

The Russian foreign minister is due to meet separately with Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, on the sidelines of the event.

The pair’s first official meeting will be held as relations between Moscow and Washington hit new lows, with Russia dubbing the US an “unfriendly” state following mutual expulsions of diplomats and fresh rounds of sanctions.

However, Russia and the United States noted the Arctic as an area of cooperation during a recent climate summit, despite mounting tensions over Ukraine, alleged Russian election meddling and cyberattacks.

Mr Blinken is in Europe for talks with the leaders of Denmark and Iceland before the Arctic Council meeting.

A State Department spokesman said it would use the meeting to "advance efforts to sustain the Arctic as a region of peace, free of conflict.”

The Secretary of State would also seek to “protect the well-being of Arctic communities and address the ever-growing threat and impacts of the climate crisis,” the spokesman added.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president. has over the last decade made the Russian Arctic a strategic priority, pouring billions not only into updating military bases and deploying new hardware, but also incentivising new oil and gas projects in the region.

In March, Moscow upgraded its space-based monitoring system over the Arctic, following similar moves from the US and Canada.