Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC)
Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov’s interview with the TASS News Agency, February 6, 2017
Question: Russia is in the middle of its two-year chairmanship of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC). What results has it achieved so far?
Vladimir Titov: Since its establishment in 1993, the BEAC, which unites Russia, Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and the European Union, has become an effective tool for multilateral interaction in Northern Europe. The BEAC has brought together a large potential for sustainable socioeconomic development in the vast Barents region in the interests of the people of the region. The focus is on the rational use of innovative research and resource capabilities of the member states, compliance with environmental standards and respect for the interests of the indigenous peoples.
Achieving these goals is the key priority of Russia’s BEAC chairmanship. Our chairmanship programme is focused on issues of key importance for the region: the development of transport and logistics infrastructure, environmental protection and efforts against climate change, and the promotion of cultural and tourist ties. Each aspect provides for holding high level meetings, at the ministerial level, and close interaction in the framework of BEAC’s working groups.
We have held meetings of the ministers of environment (November 2015, Sortavala, Karelia), transport and logistics (June 2016, Arkhangelsk) and culture (November 2016, Moscow), which adopted important decisions for boosting cooperation in the Barents region.
The environment ministers noted progress in liquidating environmental problem areas in the Barents region. The number of such areas has diminished thanks to vigorous comprehensive efforts, which involve combining the financial and expert resources of parties to Barents cooperation.
The transport and logistics ministers moved ahead in drafting the Joint Barents Transport Plan, which provides for creating 16 effective, safe and sustainable cross-border transport routes (corridors) combining railway, automobile and sea transportation modes. Seven of these routes run across Russia. There are also plans for expanding the East-West component of the air transit network in Northern Europe.
During their Moscow meeting, the culture ministers have approved the BEAC Regional Scholarship for Cultural Cooperation, which will be awarded every other year to young creative individuals and groups from Russia, Norway, Finland and Sweden.
We will discuss the results of Russia’s two-year chairmanship at a meeting of BEAC foreign ministers, which will be held in Arkhangelsk on October 18-19, 2017.
Question: Can an additional impetus be given to Barents cooperation, considering the complicated geopolitical situation?
Vladimir Titov: The BEAC experience has shown that multilateral cooperation in the Barents region is immune to changes in the international situation. Our cooperation is focused on efforts to create comfortable conditions for the Northern peoples. Nobody has tried to add a political dimension to our agenda. We maintain a regular dialogue based on mutual respect and work consistently to implement various projects.
At the same time, we believe that the Barents process, which will mark 25 years since its launch in 2018, can benefit from new initiatives that will bolster cooperation. For example, we will propose the idea of a permanent regional high level forum, a kind of a Barents Davos, to our BEAC partners. We believe that we need a representative venue for discussing all ideas on the Barents agenda focused on sustainable socioeconomic development of the Barents region. The forum participants could rally national and regional level politicians, representatives from executive authorities, the business community, academic and research communities and the media.
The forum could meet in Murmansk, the largest city and the economic, industrial, academic and cultural centre of the Barents region. Murmansk, which is considered the capital city of the Russian Arctic region, has the necessary infrastructure and, most importantly, the experience of organising large international events. We are convinced that by joining our efforts we will be able to choose the appropriate format for this event, which will help us improve the quality of our cooperation. The first forum could be held in 2018 in the context of celebrating the 25th BEAC anniversary.
Question: Russia has pledged to respect the interests of the indigenous peoples in the North during its chairmanship in the BEAC. What is actually being done?
Vladimir Titov: We do everything we can to involve the minorities of the Russian Federation in international cooperation – specifically, in the work of various forums on the issues that are relevant to them, to develop best practices and identify current challenges in the area and work out solutions.
Support for the indigenous peoples of the North is an important item on the agenda of Russia’s chairmanship in the BEAC. In particular, at Russia’s initiative, the first summit of the Barents region’s indigenous groups will be organised in Moscow in late April. The meeting will cover some of the persisting issues that we have discussed at other platforms, including the socioeconomic development and improvement of the quality of life with a focus on preserving their living environment and traditional economic set-up, protection of their languages and original culture. The event will be in the format of a plenary meeting and panel discussions with representatives of ethnic and regional authorities, business and academic communities.
Question: In the north of Europe, apart from the BEAC, there are several other inter-governmental frameworks for cooperation. Is interaction between them a topical issue?
Vladimir Titov: Indeed, there is an entire range of regional cooperation formats in Northern Europe, including the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Northern Dimension Partnership. In addition, there are other specialised structures, unions and associations.
In the European North, a unique cooperation structure has been established that contributes to maintaining trust, stability and neighbourly relationships. Also, each of these formats contributes to the realisation of projects, which requires substantial funding. In other words, the region has all the tools to accumulate significant funds and use them to solve specific tasks, including promotion of the socioeconomic development projects for Russia’s Northwestern Federal District.
Coordination of the activities of the above mentioned organisations and rational ‘distribution of labour’ remain a topical issue. In view of this, strengthening the synergy between the BEAC and other regional councils in Northern Europe is one of the key issues of our chairmanship. It was Russia that initiated closer cooperation between these organisations. In 2009, the first coordinating meeting of deputy foreign ministers took place in St Petersburg at Russia’s initiative. In 2012, the second meeting was hosted by Oslo.
During the ministerial session of the BEAC members in Oulu in October 2015, Russia proposed resuming the practice of these meetings at the political level. Our suggestion remains valid. We are ready to arrange such meeting before the end of Russia’s chairmanship. We believe it would be highly beneficial.
Question: What are the priorities of Russia’s Arctic policy? How do you build international cooperation in the Arctic region in the current situation in the world? Should we expect more tensions and a policy of confrontation to manifest itself again also in the North?
Vladimir Titov: Russia is interested in maintaining the Arctic as a region for cooperation and sustainable development. Today it is extremely important to prevent the international Arctic cooperation from being affected by politics and to protect it from confrontational logic.
Russia understands that the Arctic states are facing common challenges attributable to the global climate change and more intensive economic activity in the Arctic. Our foreign policy activity in the Arctic mainly seeks to promote collective solutions for the region’s development and expand practical cooperation with the other Arctic states.
These issues, in particular, will be discussed with involvement of high-level foreign representatives at the fourth The Arctic: Territory of Dialogue International Arctic Forum to take place on March 29-30, 2017, in Arkhangelsk. This respectable forum will compare the approaches to opening up and efficiently using the Arctic’s potential in order to improve the quality of life for the people in the Far North.
We are ready to carry out mutually beneficial economic projects both with our partners in the region and with other states. Russia is interested in intensifying the efforts of the Arctic Economic Council, which is holding a meeting of its Governance Committee on February 7-8, 2017, in St Petersburg.
We believe that the policy of partnership will determine the future of the Arctic. We are also intent on opposing any attempts to restrict Russia’s competitive advantage in the region, impose aggressive rhetoric and destructive undertakings, including the expansion of NATO’s military activity near the Russian border.