Russia gets approval for much of its Arctic Ocean seabed claim

marts 1, 2023 • Af
A map of the Arctic Ocean shows the approximate extent of the area where the UN CLCS approved the data associated with Russia’s claim (yellow) and for which it requested more information (brown). This coverage of the CLCS’s approval – which appeared in Weekendavisen in Denmark and on in the US – became the first media coverage of the event in the world. (Andreas Peretti / Weekendavisen / DK)

After more than 20 years of extensive diplomacy and expeditions with icebreakers, research vessels and submarines under the polar sea ice, Russia has received approving recommendations of the majority of its claim to the rights to the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean from the UN’s Commission for the Limitation of the Continental Shelf, the CLCS.

The CLCS, a body under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea and the prime international authority on the rights of coastal states to the seabed beyond their maritime borders, reached that conclusion on February 6 in New York. Russia’s war in Ukraine has not halted the processing of its claim.

We do not know all the details, but the CLCS has released a 63-page summary. A qualified estimate based on the accompanying maps indicates that Russia has got the CLCS’ approval — or “recommendations” — of data and measurements in support of a claim for approximately 1.7 million square kilometers of seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean. This is an area the size of France, Italy, Germany and Spain combined.

The CLCS’s recommendations of the Russian data and methodology are not the final words in the international discussion on the rights to the Arctic seabed, but the CLCS has now validated the majority of Russia’s claim.

The Russian claim — or “submission” in CLCS terminology — stretches from Russia’s exclusive economic zone in the waters north of Russia across the North Pole until it reaches the exclusive economic zones of Canada and Greenland, which is part of the Danish kingdom.

In the seas north of the Bering Strait and Alaska Russia’s claim stops at a straight line defined by a separate agreement with the U.S. from 1990 which delimits the territorial sea and continental shelf between the two nations.

Only a smaller portion of Russia’s claim, approximately midway between the North Pole and the Russian islands of Franz Josef Land and Novaya Zelma (see map above) was not, at the time of the CLCS final considerations, sufficiently documented in the eyes of the commission. Instead, the CLCS invited Russia to provide additional information, which Russia then did in a partially revised submission on February 14. The CLCS’s processing of this new information is now pending.

Strength and wealth

Russia has not issued any public statement in response to the recommendations from the CLCS, possibly because of the last outstanding issues, but the commission’s conclusions have long been anticipated. For more than two decades the government of president Putin has illustrated a strong interest in these developments.

Through its accumulated claims for some 75 percent of the seabed in the international parts of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole and its powerful mythology, Moscow has signaled its perceived strength and robustness to the Russian public and to the world. Several previous leaders of Russia and the Soviet Union have used the conquest of the Russian Arctic for similar projections of power and strength.

Only four days before the announcement of the CLCS’s recommendations of Russia’s claim, Russian President Vladimir Putin headed a discussion within Russia’s Security Council on the Arctic seabed.Exports of oil and gas from land based or offshore facilities in the Russian half of the Arctic already play a significant role in the Russian economy and for its ability to sustain its military invasion of Ukraine. The vision of still more riches from new parts of the Arctic seabed may possibly help bolster additional faith in the future of the Russia’s government, even if Western geologists have largely dismissed the idea of commercially viable oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean other than in the more shallow waters in the existing exclusive economic zones of Russia and other Arctic states.

Ministers from Putin’s government have attended several of the 30 some meetings held by CLCS and its relevant subcommittee in New York to discuss Russia’s claim.

Russia submits claim on the North Pole to UN – but oil aspirations seem dead in the water -


Meanwhile, parachuting Russian troops have practiced at the North Pole and in 2007 president Putin issued medals when two small Russian submarines planted a Russian’s flag on the seabed at the North Pole some 4,300 meters below the surface. In the run-up to the winter Olympic Games in Russia in 2014, a Russian vessel brought  runners and the Olympic Torch Relay to the North Pole, and orthodox priests have also blessed Russia’s Arctic endeavors at the North Pole.

It seems likely, therefore, that Moscow will celebrate the recommendations of the CLCS, and they will most likely be seen as a substantial victory for Russian science and technology.

As the Danish geophysicist Christian Marcussen, a former senior advisor of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland and Project Leader of the Greenland parts of the kingdom of Denmark’s continental shelf project from 2003 to 2015, told ArcticToday: “If I had used decades on this case for Russia, I would call this a really impressive result of my life’s work”.

The contest continues

The CLCS’ recommendations of Russia’s claim should not be misread, however. The broad partial approval of Russia’s claim does not mean that Russia has now won the rights to the disputed parts of the Arctic seabed.

The Kingdom of Denmark (on behalf of Greenland) and Canada have also filed substantial claims with the CLCS and these are still waiting for CLCS evaluation.

Norway has filed claims in other parts of the Arctic Ocean and the U.S. reportedly has prepared, but not yet submitted to the CLCS, claims reaching from the waters north of Alaska towards the North Pole.

The claims of Canada and the Denmark/Greenland both overlap substantially with Russia’s and the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea stipulates that in such cases any disagreement about the final borders will have to be settled by the states themselves.

The CLCS will evaluate whether the claims of each state is supported by sufficient data and correct measurements but the CLCS will not serve as arbitrator, if any other state — say Canada —  provides data to prove that the seabed in question connects to its continental shelf in the same way it connects to Russia’s.

“The CLCS in its summary explicitly explains that the CLCS will not determine how the pie should finally be delimited. It does so precisely to avoid misunderstandings,” Marcussen told ArcticToday.

Large overlaps

The Danish Kingdom’s claim to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean amounts to some 895,000 square kilometers. According to the Institute for Border Research at the University of Durham in Great Britain it overlaps with Russia’s claim by some 800,000 square kilometers. Canada’s total claim in the Arctic Ocean amounts to some 2.03 million square kilometers out of which some 1.5 million overlap with the Russian claim.

With the CLCS’ recommendations of Russia’s claim now at hand it seems more likely than ever that Danish, Greenlandic and Canadian diplomats will eventually meet with Russian counterparts to negotiate over very large tracts of seabed.

Previously, some observers have doubted whether the governments involved had sufficient data to substantiate the far reaches of their claims, but this doubt should now be waning.

The CLCS in its evaluation of Russia’s claim seem to accept largely Russia’s use of subsea mountain ranges in the Arctic Ocean as a departure point for its claim, something that has not previously been confirmed. This makes it more likely that  large parts of the claims by Denmark/Greenland and Canada will also meet the approval of CLCS.

The CLCS’ decision has reportedly been reached by consensus. To Bjørn Kunoy, a professor of international law and special legal counsel to the foreign service of the Faroe Islands, who has advised Greenland and other states in similar cases, this is noteworthy.

“The conclusions are strengthened by the consensus,” Kunoy told ArcticToday. This will benefit, he finds, all involved as it makes unlikely future challenges to the conclusions.

Kunoy also points towards the time frames involved. Most observers expect that the CLCS will find time to deal with the claim of the Danish Kingdom only by 2032 or later and that Canada will have to wait even longer. Other nations have filed earlier submissions to the CLCS and will be dealt with first.

In the interim, all parties including Russia will have to wait. Despite their largely approving nature, the CLCS’s recommendations of Russia’s claim does not give Russia license to operate on the disputed seabed.

”The point of fact that the submissions of the other contender states will only be considered at a later stage does not in any way challenge their entitlements, also where these will overlap with the area that falls within the entitlement of Russia,” Kunoy explains.

Some observers have speculated that Russia in the coming years of waiting may get so accustomed to regard the dispute as settled in its favor that the final negotiations on the subsea borders will be more difficult.

In the meantime, there are no known indications that Russia will abandon its adherence to the UN rules for peaceful delimitation of the Arctic seabed. Since 2001, Russia has followed the relevant regulations as stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea. Moscow has accepted on an ongoing basis the CLCS’ admission of claims to the Arctic seabed by other states and that the CLCS will eventually deal with these as it has now dealt with Russia’s.

As this article was published on  27 February 2023 it marked the first media coverage in the world of the CLCS’ decision. 


Grønlands forfatningsudkast bliver det første detaljerede bud på et uafhængigt Grønland

februar 7, 2023 • Af

Grønlands første og hidtil eneste Selvstændighedsminister Suka K. Frederiksen (tv) med den første formand for Grønlandsforfatningskommission Vivian Motzfeldt i 2017 (Foto: Grønlands Selvstyre).

Det begyndte i Nuuk en grå lørdag i november 2016.

Mødet var hasteindkaldt, publikumsrækkerne pakket til sidste stol. Udenfor i mørket foran Inatsisartut, det grønlandske parlament, lå bunker af våd sne, men stemningen i parlamentssalen var glædesfuld og varm.

Det hele kulminerede, da de fleste af parlamentsmedlemmerne til sidst spontant sprang op og klappede.Efter mere end ti års tilløb havde et flertal stemt i flok: Grønland skulle have sin egen forfatning. Under forhandlingerne havde den politiske veteran, tidligere landsstyreformand Lars-Emil Johansen ligefrem læst højt af ‘Sinnattugaq’, ‘En grønlænders drøm’ af Mathias Storch, Grønlands første roman fra 1914:

“Døren er nu åben, træd indenfor og begynd arbejdet. Den, der arbejder, får sin løn med Guds nåde.”Kritikerne advarede om, at det gik for hurtigt. Detaljerne var ikke på plads, sagde de, men det stoppede ikke processen. En måned forinden havde en ny koalitionsregering i Nuuk forklaret pointen i sit regeringsgrundlag:“Grønland er uigenkaldeligt på vej mod selvstændighed, og denne proces kræver ikke alene politisk stabilitet, men også national samling. Parterne er enige om at fremføre forslag til en ny forfatning ved udgangen af denne valgperiode.“

Helt så hurtigt gik det ikke, men nu sker det angiveligt: Naalakkersuisut, det grønlandske landsstyre, har meddelt, at den grønlandske forfatningskommission, nedsat i 2017, sigter efter at levere et udkast til Grønlands fremtidige forfatning 1. april i år.

Går det som planlagt, kan vælgerne i Grønland og alle andre se frem til det første konkrete og samlede bud på, hvilken slags land der sigtes mod, når man i Grønland taler om uafhængighed, løsrivelse og statsdannelse.

Hvem vil være de naturlige statsborgere i det frie Grønland? Hvilken relation vil Grønland have til Danmark? Hvad med sproget? Vil private kunne eje land, eller vil alt land stadig tilhøre fællesskabet? Får naturen særlig status? Hvordan skal landet regeres, forsvares og forvaltes?

Delte meninger i Grønland

Kritikere i Grønland, herunder Grønlands gamle liberale parti Atassut, har stemplet forfatningsprocessen som dyr og overflødig. Atassut ser gerne, at rigsfællesskabet med Danmark fortsætter, og partiet trak sig helt ud af forfatningsarbejdet i 2021. Andre hylder til gengæld forfatningsprojektet som helt centralt for afklaring af Grønlands egne mål og værdier.

Erik Jensen, formand for Siumut, Grønlands for tiden næststørste parti, og viceformand for Grønlands regerende koalition, lød begejstret, da jeg mødte ham til Naalakkersuisuts nytårskur i København i forrige uge:

“Det gælder om at få befolkningen inddraget og debatten i gang om, hvordan landet skal styres fremadrettet. Vores partis program er jo, at vi skal blive selvstændige og herrer i eget hus. Det er den store ambition og en del af målsætningen med det her. Vi har store udfordringer i Grønland, og vi skal træffe de rette beslutninger på det rette tidspunkt, men vi tænker langsigtet,” sagde han.

Arbejdet med den nye forfatning

Stort set intet om indholdet af Forfatningsudkastet er endnu sluppet ud. Arbejdet er i perioder gået rigtigt stærkt, det er alt, vi ved. Først når udkastet formelt er overdraget til Naalakkersuisut, vil offentligheden blive inddraget, og forfatningsudkastet sat til debat i Inatsisartut.

Hvad der herefter skal ske, er ikke klart, men at dømme ud fra den hidtidige politiske debat i Grønland, er det ikke de ledende politikeres plan, at en færdig grønlandsk forfatning nu snarest skal til folkeafstemning, vedtages og sættes i kraft.

På Færøerne rumlede Lagtinget i årene frem mod 2018 med planer om en færøsk forfatning, der skulle fungere i parallelløb med den danske grundlov. Den daværende Lars Løkke-regering mente længe, at det ville være i strid med grundloven. Flere udkast måtte revideres før de danske jurister var tilfredse, nye vanskeligheder opstod i Thorshavn, og Færøerne har stadig ingen egen forfatning.

I Grønland kender man selvsagt de færøske vanskeligheder, og debatten hidtil tyder ikke på, at en fiks og færdig, vedtaget og ikraftsat grønlandsk forfatning nu vil være sigtet på den korte bane. Et forfatningsudkast vil muligvis inspirere til udvalgte forandringer i forholdet til Danmark, men næppe til et parløb eller opgør med den danske grundlov i nærmeste fremtid.

Det nye vil være, at Grønland nu, hvis alt går som planlagt, i fremtiden vil have egen forfatning mere eller mindre klar til ikrafttrædelse den dag, oprettelse af en uafhængig grønlandsk stat måtte blive aktuel. Det er tilhængernes håb, at det vil styrke uafhængighedsprocessen.

Et lovgrundlag i tråd med grønlandske værdier

På Christiansborg vil forfatningsudkastet næppe skabe tumult. Siden Selvstyrets indførelse i 2009 har det stået Grønland “frit for at indlede en forfatningsforberedende proces,” som det hedder i Selvstyrelovens bemærkninger. Tunge problemer opstår først, hvis forfatningsudkastet ophøjes til lov, og den danske grundlov udfordres. Det er der som nævnt næppe udsigt til, uanset at mange i Grønland har et problem med grundloven.

Rigets reviderede grundlov fra 1953, der afsluttede kolonitiden og gjorde Grønland til en del af Danmark og grønlænderne til danske statsborgere, blev født ved folkeafstemning i Danmark, men uden folkeafstemning i Grønland.

Siden har utilfredsheden gæret, og i 2004 var den daværende formand for partiet Inuit Ataqatigiit Josef ‘Tuusi’ Motzfeldt blandt de første til at formulere ønsket om en grønlandsk forfatning:

“Det grønlandske sprog, vor identitet, rådighedsret til landet og vor kultur nyder ikke direkte beskyttelse i den danske grundlov. Det grønlandske folk skal derfor have egen grundlov frem for et forfatningsmæssigt lovgrundlag, som vi føler at have til låns fra Danmark. En grundlov for os som giver udtryk for det grønlandske folks identitet – såvel indadtil som udadtil,” skrev han.

Knaster i kommissionsarbejdet

Forfatningskommissionen består af folkevalgte politikere, der har trukket på nogle få akademiske eksperter, herunder den islandske ombudsmand (Island, der fik egen grundlov i 1874, løsrev sig endeligt fra Danmark under 2. verdenskrig og betragtes på mange måder som foregangsland i Grønland).

Forfatningsprojektet har undervejs været plaget af kontroverser og regerings- og personudskift. Af de oprindelige syv kommissionsmedlemmer er der ingen tilbage, og sekretariatet er tilsvarende forvandlet. Mandatet fra 2017 måtte skrives om, og et kontroversielt forslag om løn og embedsbolig til formanden fik for en tid arbejdet til at grundstøde. I januar 2022 blev den tidligere formand for Naalakkersuisut Kuupik Kleist udpeget til formand for Forfatningskommissionen, men han trak sig efter mindre end fire måneder, angiveligt i frustration over manglende fremdrift.

Kuupik Kleist, tidl. formand for Naalakkersuisut, trak sig fra formandsstolen i forfatningskommissionen efter knap fire måneder. Foto: Marc Jacobsen

I sidste uge kunne nyhedsmediet så fortælle, at Naalakkersusisut har mistanke om misforvaltning af Forfatningskommissionens finanser, og en revisionsundersøgelse vil nu løbe parallelt med kommissionens afsluttende arbejde.

Forfatningskommissionen har arbejdet på grønlandsk (med tolk til den islandske rådgiver), men forfatningsudkastet og den medfølgende betænkning udkommer ifølge sekretariatet i Nuuk på både grønlandsk og dansk.

Forfatningskommissionen har før overskredet en deadline, men denne gang er givetvis anderledes. Naalakkersuisut har ikke afsat penge til mere arbejde i Forfatningskommissionen på Finansloven for 2023. Slutspurten gennemføres på resterne fra 2022.

Denne text blev offentliggjort første gang på Altinget / Arktis 30. januar 2023


Canada extends its Arctic Ocean seabed claim all the way to Russian waters

januar 25, 2023 • Af

A map from Canada’s addendum to its Arctic Ocean seabed claim shows the updated boundaries.
Canada’s claim now extends all the way to Russia’s territorial waters

In an addendum filed in late December 2022, Canada substantially expanded its claim to the Arctic Ocean seabed. Canada’s claim now reaches in several places all the way to Russia’s exclusive economic zone.

The changes to the claim were delivered as a 54-page note, or addendum, to the UN’s Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf. The extension is now added to Canada’s original claim from May 2019.

Three accompanying maps show how Canada’s full claim now stretches along the length of the Lomonosov Ridge, a steep sub-sea mountain range to the west of the North Pole, to the limits of Russia’s exclusive economic zone 200 nautical miles from Russia’s coastline. A conservative estimate based on the three maps included indicates that Canada has extended its claim by some 600,000 to 700,000 square kilometers.

The Canadian claim is filed at a time when relations with Russia in the Arctic are severely strained because of Russia’s war on Ukraine. All collaboration with Russia within the Arctic Council, the main inter-governmental body in the Arctic region, is currently paused with no prospect of resuming soon.

Consultations with Russia

The original Canadian claim or submission from 2019 already overlapped with Russia’s claim to the seabed and also with a joint Greenlandic-Danish claim. The Canadian addendum filed with the CLCS on December 19 does not specify how large the overlaps are now, but the accompanying maps indicate that they have grown substantially.

The Canadian extension follows a claim by Denmark-Greenland from 2014 that stretches from Greenlandic waters to Russia’s exclusive economic zone and several extensions of Russia’s original claim from 2001. Russia has claimed in total some 75 percent of the seabed in the central parts of the Arctic Ocean — all according to regulations stipulated by the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, which regulates the delineation of the seabed in international waters.

Claims to the CLCS may provide the claimant government with exclusive rights to exploit any resources on or under the seabed, but not any substantial privileges in the water column or above it.

Regular meetings between Canada, Russia and Denmark/Greenland at scientific as well as diplomatic level have been held to prevent any conflict, and Canada in its note of December 19 explains that “regular consultations” have been held with Russia during its preparation.

Some western analysts have worried that Russia, which planted in 2007 a much publicized flag on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, might abandon its adherence to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, but no significant moves by Russia to do so have been publicly recorded.

The claims of the three nations will be evaluated by the CLCS’s international panel of experts. The CLCS will evaluate to what extent scientific data submitted by the three nations are sufficient to prove that their continental shelves extend into the Arctic Ocean to the degree their governments claim. The CLCS, however, is not mandated to decide on the final delineation of the seabed. According to the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea, the final delineation of the seabed — including that around the North Pole — should eventually be decided through negotiations among the nations involved.

The CLCS’s evaluation of the claims of all the three nations involved is expected to be finished only in a decade or more. An evaluation by the CLCS of Russia’s claims is expected in 2024, but due to a long queue of other claims from other parts of the world, an evaluation of the Danish-Greenlandic claim is expected only in eight to 10 years from now and an evaluation of Canada’s claim even later.

First published on 21. December 2022. 


Greenland drops cooperation with Russia on fish while the Faroe Island continue controversial quota swaps

december 14, 2022 • Af
Fishing vessels are seen in the port of Nuuk in a 2019 file photo. (Krestia DeGeorge)

Tuesday last week, as discreetly as possible, Greenland delivered a highly unusual message to Moscow.

Greenland will not use its fisheries agreement with Russia to fish for cod and other fish in the Barents Sea  in 2023 and no Russian fishing vessels will have access to the usual quotas of halibut and other fish in Greenland’s waters.

It’s the first time since 1992 — when Greenland and Russia signed a formal deal to swap fishing quotas — that this deal will not lead to talks and a new agreement on quota-swapping for the coming year.

The message to Moscow does not contain, as far as information from the authorities in Nuuk goes, any wording on or protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine. Asked for details, the Department of Fisheries and Hunting of Greenland’s government in Nuuk offers as an explanation only that the fish stocks in Greenland’s water are presently not sufficient to allow for the usual quota swapping with Russia.

There are, however, indications that a silent protest against Russia’s war in Ukraine may be involved.

Greenland’s distinct denouncement of Russia’s war has been communicated on several other occasions.

On February 25, just a day after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Greenland Premier Muté B. Egede issued a blunt press statement: “I forcefully condemn Russia’s acts against the Ukrainian people. They are senseless and for that reason we want to demonstrate our solidarity with the people of Ukraine with our adherence to the international sanctions on Russia,” he said (my translation).

Greenland Prime Minister Muté B. Egede speaks at an event at the Wilson Center in Washington, D.C. on June 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

In the same move, Greenland’s large publicly owned fishing-enterprise Royal Greenland was ordered to deactivate its activities in Russia, and its CEO Mikael Thinghuus promptly followed up: “Individual needs have to bow to the greater good, and commercial pain is nothing compared to the pain the Ukrainian population is suffering,” he told, Greenland’s leading news site.

Royal Greenland has since put up for sale its share of Agama Royal Greenland, a packing business in Russia, which for 25 years has packed and sold Greenland fish and shrimp in Russia. Polar Seafood, Greenland’s largest private fishing company, has also sold off its interests in Russia. Prior to the war in Ukraine, exports to Russia accounted for some 13 percent of Greenland’s total exports.

In October, Egede made clear his continued opposition to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in front of some 2,000 international attendees at the annual Arctic Circle conference in Reykjavik: “The government of Greenland condemns the brutal war on Ukraine and Russia’s disregard for international law and order. We clearly stand with the western alliance in this question. Greenland will impose the EU sanctions towards Russia and Russian entities. This is the first time in history that Greenland takes a step like this,” he said.

The message to Moscow leaves open Greenland’s options for a resumption of the quota-swapping in 2024, but for now Greenland cannot easily be blamed for cooperating with Russia on fish.


The decision to abstain from quota swapping in 2023 was taken after a closed meeting of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government. No public announcement or statements were made at the time and no later quotable comments from members of the government have so far been available.

Discretion has seemingly been of the highest priority. Last week, when I contacted key members of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, for comments, they were unaware of their government’s decision to abstain from the quote swapping in 2023.

There might be several reasons behind this decisive silence.

Greenland will have, for one, an interest in preserving a workable relationship with Russia within the ongoing multilateral and difficult negotiations on fishing quotas in the greater North Atlantic. In these negotiations, representatives from Greenland, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and others are face-to-face with Russian counterparts in negotiations over fish that are of serious economic importance to all involved.

Also, Greenland will have no desire to completely give up its bilateral quota swapping deal with Russia from 1992, hoping as many others that cooperation with Russia will in time be possible again. By sticking in its message to Moscow from last week to words and arguments only related to the sustainability of its fish stocks Greenland commits no breach of the original deal from 1992. This will leave Greenland free to resume swapping from 2024, if Nuuk should wish to.

Although Greenland’s fishing fleet includes a number of large, ocean-going trawlers, such as “Polar Amaroq”, seen here, most fishing is done by smaller boats, and the country sells the rights to the fish it cannot catch to other countries and the EU. (Polar Seafood)

Finally, Greenland, which has reportedly been communicating with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Copenhagen before sending its message to Moscow, may be trying to avoid also breaching the complicated rules of engagement within the Kingdom of Denmark.

As part of the Danish realm, Greenland and the Faroe Island are not mandated to take steps with military or security implications against any foreign nation. Under normal circumstances a refusal to swap fishing quotas with Russia for a single year would probably be seen as well within Greenland’s powers to manage its own fishing affairs, but after Russia’s war on Ukraine — and if the message to Moscow had been delivered as a blunt and publicly advertised denunciation of Russia — critics in Denmark might have questioned whether Greenland was suddenly conducting security politics outside its formal powers.

Avoiding critics

Greenland is now likely to escape the kind of international condemnation that is presently raining down on Norway and the Faroe Islands. Both nations have been open in their criticism of Russia’s war in Ukraine, but they also continue their fisheries cooperation with Moscow. This has put the two under heavy flak from the EU in Brussels, where critics say that their continued cooperation on fish are undermining the common European front against Putin’s Russia.

In economic terms, Greenland’s decision to skip quota swapping with Russia in 2023 will most likely have only scant local economic impact. The government in Nuuk will probably have little or perhaps no need to compensate the fishing industry for its loss of quotas in the Barents Sea.

Because of the halt to the quota swapping for 2023, Greenland stands to lose access to some 3,000 tons Russian fish — primarily cod. These fish will not be available to Greenland’s fishing industry, but the two fishing companies involved, Royal Greenland and Polar Seafood, are likely to be given instead access to halibut and other fish in Greenland, which Russian consumers would otherwise have eaten. The trawlers involved can apparently be used for both types of fisheries without, as I understand it, major technical alterations.

The Faroese continue

In contrast, in the Faroe Islands, cooperation with Russia remains a heated and very public issue and it has drawn heavy international attention since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

At the time, the Faroese chose not only to continue their quota swapping with Russia but also to boost their exports of fish from aquaculture, salmon in particular, to the Russian market.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the private enterprises that make up the Faroe Islands aquaculture industry have stopped at their own volition basically all exports to Russia, but the quota swapping with Russia has continued to underpin the sea-borne fishing industry.

Critics claim that the Faroese work against the spirit of western attempts to sanction Russia for its war in Ukraine. The Faroese leaders argue that the export of fish to Russia is not covered by the western sanctions and that a break with Russia on fisheries would endanger Russia’s commitment to sustainable fishing in the entire North Atlantic — an argument also used by Norway in defense of its continued cooperation with Russia.

The turnabout

To learn more, I asked last week for a lift with Høgni Hoydal, the Faroe Islands’ former minister of fisheries. He is also the leader of Tjóðveldi, a left-leaning political party aiming for severance of the islands’ constitutional bonds to Denmark.

We drove to Klaksvik, the Faroe Islands’ second largest town, for the final televised debate before the general elections that took place in the Faroe Islands on December 8.

I knew that Hoydal had argued fervently for a total stop to cooperation with Russia. In his car he repeated his stand: “We cannot continue close cooperation with a country that attacks another country’s civilians, independence and self determination. That is our final moral conclusion,” he told me.

Høgni Hoydal, former minister of fisheries of the Faroe Islands and head of islands’ main independence party, Tjóðveldi. Hoydal argues for a total stop for cooperation with Russia but chose to support a swap of fishing quotas now agreed with Russia for 2023. (Martin Breum)

I asked why then — in the middle of the electoral campaign — he had given his support so that on November 25 the Faroe Island’s government could agree with Moscow to renew its quota swapping deal with Russia for 2023.

Hoydal and Javnaðarflokkurin, a social democratic party which had also argued for a stop to cooperation with Russia, were accused of cheap sucking up to voters from the Faroe Islands’ fishing communities, but Hoydal waved off the accusations:

“When elections were called, we were faced with another moral obligation, namely that towards the least fortunate on the Faroe Islands. To break with Russia would have in the short term enormous impact on the many families whose income depends on the cod from the Barents Sea,” he said.

He argued that duly prepared compensations to those who would lose their fishing quotas or their salary must be in place before any rupture to the deal with Russia.

“That was why we had to support the extension of the fisheries arrangement and then form a new government that can discontinue the arrangement in an orderly fashion,” he said.

Still in the car, he explained that the Faroese trawlers that are equipped to catch Russian cod in the Barents Sea cannot easily be adapted to catch the kind of fish sought by Russian vessels in Faroese waters. Unlike in Greenland, he said, difficult and expensive transitions would be needed if such transition was to be made.

In 2023, Faroese fishing vessels will have access to some 18,000 tons of Russian fish, while Russian vessels will catch fish of roughly the same value in Faroese waters. They will also reload and service their ships in Faroese harbors.

As I write, the elections in the Faroe Island are over, but the Faroe Islands still have no new government. Most likely, the leader of the social democrats, Aksel Johansen, will be the next premier of the Faroe Island.

If so, his promise to not enter into any quota swapping with Russia for 2024 unless the war in Ukraine is over will follow him into office.

Meanwhile, I learned that dissatisfaction is growing among ordinary Faroese:

“The Faroe Islands are changing. Still more people feel bad when all that seems to matter is money. Some still say that we are a very small country and that it makes no difference what we do, but most people find today that as Faroese we also have to be decent people,” said Hallbera West, an assistant professor of political science at the University of the Faroe Islands.

This text was first published on 14. December 2022.


Putins krig skader klimaforskningen i Arktis

december 1, 2022 • Af
Præsident Putins krig i Ukraine gør skade på det avancerede internationale modelarbejde, der skal forudsige klimaets udvikling. Forskerne bag klimamodellerne må nu undvære centrale data fra Ruslands kolossale arktiske provinser, hvor temperaturen ligesom i andre dele af Arktis stiger fire gange så hurtigt som i resten af verden.
Uden en støt strøm af data og forskning fra denne del af Arktis, vil resten af verden miste vigtig viden om klimakrisens natur og forventlige udvikling.Danmark, USA, EU og resten af den vestlige verden har stoppet stort set alt samarbejde med russiske forskningsinstitutioner, og danske, tyske og andre udenlandske forskere, der tidligere har hentet data om atmosfæren, polarisen og permafrosten i det russiske Arktis, kan ikke længere rejse ind i Rusland.

prof. Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der forsker i permafrost, forudser langvarige skader på klimaforskningen. Foto: UNIS, Svalbard

En af Danmarks fremmeste forskere i permafrost, professor Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der til dagligt arbejder på UNIS, Universitetssenteret på Svalbard, fortalte mig om det voksende dilemma i sidste uge på det årlige træf for danske, grønlandske og færøske polarforskere på Hindsgavl Slot udenfor Middelfart:

“Det er halvdelen af Arktis, der ikke leverer data. Vi har ikke adgang til, hvad der egentlig foregår. Vi har brug for hele Arktis, når man for eksempel skal verificere sine modeller. Der er rigtigt mange russiske og andre forskere, der har brugt tid på at opbygge målinger af eksempelvis permafrost i Sibirien, hvor den tykkeste permafrost i verden findes, men de data har vi ikke adgang til længere. Der opstår en større usikkerhed om, hvorvidt man modellerer korrekt. Det bliver en joker i det arbejde, man laver,” siger hun.

Arktis på pause

Problemerne begyndte i marts, da den danske regering sammen med de øvrige seks vestlige regeringer i Arktisk Råd satte alt samarbejde med Rusland i Arktisk Råd på pause – inklusive de mange forskningsprogrammer, der udgør kernen af rådets arbejde. Samtidig har EU stoppet al kontakt med Rusland i EU-finansierede forskningsprogrammer.

Pausen i Arktis Råds samarbejde med Rusland har ingen fast udløbsdato, og politikerne bag beslutningen har ikke angivet faste kriterier for, hvornår den kan ophæves.

I forskningsmiljøerne kalkuleres der derfor med potentielt ganske langvarige, negative effekter.

“Indtil videre tænker vi ikke så meget over det, fordi vi tidligere har haft en hvis adgang til data fra Rusland. Men hvad så med fremtiden? Hvis jeg må være lidt sortsynet, så kan det jo godt tage en generation, før vi har gang i de her ting igen,” siger Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen.

Også i diplomatiet frygter man et langvarigt hul i samarbejdet. Selv garvede diplomater taler nu om udsigt til “sameksistens” i stedet for “samarbejde” med Rusland i Arktis.

Til den årlige Arctic Circle konference, der samlede mere en 2000 deltagere i Reykjavik i oktober, fortalte David Balton, der leder præsident Bidens Arctic Executive Steering Committee, at man efter Ruslands invasion i Ukraine seriøst overvejede at droppe målsætningen om “samarbejde med alle” i USA’s seneste arktiske strategi, der blev offentliggjort fra 7. oktober.

Nordisk formandskab

David Balton advarede også om, at alle kontakter med vestlige forskere kan være farlige for de russiske forskere; en advarsel, der blev gentaget i Middelfart i sidste uge.

Mere optimistiske forskere, diplomater og politikere som Aaja Chemnitz, folketingsmedlem for Inuit Ataqatigiit, øjner dog et vist håb i det faktum, at Norge i maj 2023 afløser Rusland som formand for Arktisk Råd, og at det fra 2025 er Danmarks og dernæst Sveriges tur, i alt seks år med nordisk formandskab og muligheder for samordning.

Aaja Chemnitz, der også er præsident for Arctic Parliamentarians, et samarbejdsorgan for politikere fra de otte arktiske nationer, håber, at en langsom opblødning i forholdet til Rusland i Arktis kan begynde i efteråret 2023: “For langt de fleste aktører i Arktis er krigen i Ukraine afgørende for, om man vil samarbejde med Rusland eller ej. Men jeg tror, at Norge fra maj næste år vil begynde at rykke ved nogle ting. Vi er nødt til at have en diskussion om, hvad vi vil forsøge at opnå i Arktisk Råd, hvis krigen i Ukraine trækker ud i flere år – måske et helt årti,” fortalte hun mig i Middelfart.

Forskningen i Arktis kan måske blive noget af det første, man kan samarbejder med Rusland om igen: “Jeg håber, at vi med udsigt til seks års nordisk formandskab kan få en diskussion om, hvorvidt vi måske på et tidspunkt kan få et samarbejde med enkelte  aktører i Rusland på forskningsområdet,” siger hun. Her er der historisk præcedens.

Under Den Kolde Krig bidrog USA, Kina, Rusland og Canada til opblødning af de hårde politiske fronter netop ved at samarbejde om forskning i permafrost i International Permafrost Association: “Man besøgte og lærte om permafrost hos hinanden, og det var klart noget man gjorde også for at skubbe til en bredere udvikling”, fortæller Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, der var IPA’s præsident fra 2016 til 2020. The International Permafrost Association blev stiftet i 1983 og bidrager stadig til forskningsdiplomatiet.

Ny dansk plan

Universiteterne stillede sammen med DMI og en række andre institutioner inden udskrivelsen af Folketingsvalget via Forum for Arktisk Forskning et forslag til forsknings- og uddannelsesminister Jesper Petersen om en ekstraordinær femårig polarforsknings-indsats til 300 millioner kroner. De håber, at en ny regering vil behandle forslaget i starten af 2023, hvor en forsinket finanslov for 2023 formentlig skal forhandles på plads.

Polarforskerne i Grønland, Færøerne og Danmark lagde i 2020 tilsammen 662 årsværk – heraf 107 i Grønland og 42 på Færøerne. De 300 millioner skal øge polarforskningen efter strategisk udvalgte mål.

Jesper Petersen foreslog inden valget, at en del af pengene måske kunne findes blandt de ekstra milliarder til forsvaret, som et flertal på Christiansborg allerede er enige om.

Forsvaret støtter i forvejen forskningen i Arktis med skibstransport og anden logistik, og Forsvaret er selv i stigende grad afhængig af ny viden om polarisen, storme og andre klimafænomener.

International bekymring

Forskerne skal navigere i et stadig mere spændingsfyldt Arktis, men det bliver uden Rusland; på det punkt er alle forskere i Vesten i samme båd: Professor Donie Bret-Harte, videnskabelig leder af USA’s største arktiske forskningsstation, Toolik Field Station i Alaska, fortalte mig nogle uger forud for mødet i Middelfart, hvordan de russiske forskere også har problemer, fordi de må undvære pengene fra international forskningsprogrammer: “Pausen i samarbejdet har gjort det meget vanskeligere for mange russiske forskere at arbejde, fordi deres adgang til finansiering er svundet ind. Jeg tror, at der vil opstå et stort hul i vores viden,” sagde hun under et møde på Island i INTERACT, et pan-arktisk netværk af arktiske forskningsstationer, der nu må undvære de russiske medlemmer.

Hun advarede ligesom David Balton fra præsident Bidens Arktis-råd om de risici, enhver kontakt med vesten betyder for russiske forskere, og hun forudså en lang skadesperiode: “Jo længere pausen varer, jo sværere vil det blive at få tingene i gang igen bagefter,” sagde hun.

Selv holder hun dog personlige, private relationer ved lige: “Jeg mener, at sanktionerne mod Rusland er helt på sin plads, og jeg efterlever dem gerne. Men jeg føler stærkt, at den indsats, der gøres på individuelt plan for at fastholde samarbejder, ikke bør stoppes. Putins forsøg på at isolere hans folk; det mener jeg ikke, at vi skal hjælpe ham med.”

En af hendes kolleger, den britiske professor Terry Callaghan, der i mere end 50 år har drevet polarforskning ofte i samarbejde med russiske kolleger anser adgang til det russiske Arktis for helt uundværlig, og en hvis grad af kontakt bør opretholdes på privat niveau på trods af krigen i Ukraine: “Det landområder, der er centrale for at forstå at forstå de feedback-mekanismer, som afgør, hvad der sker med klimaet og biodiversiteten på resten af kloden. Vi kan se på satellitbilleder, hvad der sker på jordens overflade, men vi kan ikke forstå, hvorfor forandringerne finder sted. Vi er nødt til at have folk på pletten,” fortalte han.

“Det har taget mere end 30 år at opbygge tillid og samarbejde, siden Sovjetunionen faldt sammen. Hvis først den tillid ødelægges, bliver det ikke nogen hurtig proces at bygge den op igen. Vi er nødt til at bevare nogle broer. Hvis ikke vi har nogen overhovedet, vil det være en katastrofe for fremtiden,” siger han

Artiklen blev første gang bragt på Altinget/Arktis 1. december 2022


The Danish Kingdom’s Arctic votes are suddenly decisive, forcing postcolonial dilemmas to surface

november 12, 2022 • Af

Not since Donald Trump’s flamboyant 2019 vision of a U.S. takeover of Greenland, the world’s largest island, has the Kingdom of Denmark’s unique postcolonial construct demanded so much attention of the Danes themselves.

In 2019, the strength of the union between Denmark and Greenland was tested by the sudden move by then-President Trump. Now, after general elections that were held in Denmark on November 1, the kingdom’s internal relations have once again come under renewed scrutiny.


Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam (right) and Aaja Chemnitz, the two parliamentarians from Greenland now hold decisive powers. Photo: Leiff Josefsen

Since the election, three North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament — two from Greenland, a former Danish colony, and one from the Faroe Islands, a semi-autonomous group of 18 islands in the North Atlantic — have held the power to decide who will lead the government in Copenhagen for the next four years.

I can assure you that this is not a common situation in Copenhagen, the Kingdom’s capital, from where I write, and on the fringes of the furor that this situation has provoked in some quarters, thoughts of possible changes to our constitution are now being aired.

Arctic power

Although the situation is unusual, everything is happening according to carefully elaborated rules and procedures constructed to keep the Danish Kingdom inclusive and operating like a well-oiled machine. Even if there is more than 3,500 kilometers separating Copenhagen from Nuuk, Greenland is still — like the Faroe Islands — a part of the kingdom (unlike Iceland, which severed its last formal ties to the Danish king in 1943 and became a fully independent sovereign republic).

As we digest the peculiar details of the present, many Danes have been forced to revisit our old relations to the Faroe Islands and Greenland and to recount why it is that a tiny number of votes, cast by people who live far away in the Arctic and who speak their own separate languages, can suddenly hold such sway over our national politics.

The basic question, of course is whether it is still fair and good that the peoples of Greenland and the Faroe Islands have such powers?

Are the old rules and procedures, established in another era, still legitimate and sufficiently reflective of our values and ideals?

As one of our former prime ministers, the liberal Lars Løkke Rasmussen quipped on television in the late hours of the election night as he licked his electoral wounds:

“If you look at Denmark — not the Danish realm, but Denmark — there is no red majority. Only because of the way the votes fall in Greenland is there a red majority,” he said.

Others followed suit. Nobody questioned openly the electoral system that  allows the North Atlantic members of the Danish parliament their powers, but the electoral campaign had already revealed how Danish politicians will at times lack respect for their North Atlantic counterparts.

One contender for the office of the prime minister, the conservative leader Søren Pape Poulsen, was quoted during the campaign as remarking that “Greenland is just Africa on ice,” a slur allegedly aired during a visit to the U.S. Embassy in Copenhagen. Poulsen had to apologize to the people of Greenland on prime time TV while a roar of dissatisfaction made its way from Nuuk.

Laws and tradition

Many Danes would be unable to remember the full explanation as to why voters in the Faroe Islands and in Greenland can suddenly wield such influence over the political process in Denmark.

As our constitution was put in place in 1849, the Faroese were considered part and parcel of Denmark’s cultural and historic realm. There were less than 10,000 people living on the islands at the time. Moreover, the islands were steered by Danish officials, the islanders spoke (and still speak) a Nordic language, and as a new parliamentary system was established on the basis of the Kingdom’s new constitution, the Faroese were guaranteed the right to elect two members of parliament.

In 1953, following a national referendum in Denmark (but not in Greenland), the constitution was revised and an end was put to Greenland’s colonial status. Greenland was turned instead into a fully integrated part of the Danish Kingdom and those who lived in Greenland became, like the Faroese, Danish citizens.

As all legislation pertaining to Greenland came from Denmark, Greenland was accorded the same right to elect two members of parliament.

The four North Atlantic members have since been counted as fully mandated members of parliament in Copenhagen. They carry exactly as much or as little political weight and influence as the 175 other members of parliament — and this is all stipulated by the constitution.

Most of the year, the efforts of these four members of parliament raise few alarms. The media, the public and most Danish politicians seldomly concern themselves with the affairs of Greenland or the Faroe Islands, but then — boom — suddenly, as in these days, the four extra votes may become crucially important as a majority in the Folketing, Denmark’s parliament, is needed to form a new government.

Tiny votes

This is then the resulting state of affairs: As I write this on Tuesday, a struggle for the central hold on political power in Denmark hinges on three politicians from Greenland and the Faroe Islands, who have chosen to support the efforts of Mette Frederiksen to form a new government.

Behind them stand relatively small numbers of voters. The two from Greenland received 4,289 (Aaja Chemnitz) and 6,655 votes (Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam). That is, from a Danish perspective, not a lot of people, and as the media in Denmark have been careful to report, more than half of the electorate in Greenland did not even take part in the elections. Most people in Greenland seem to care more about who holds power in Inatsisartut or Naalakkersuisut, the parliament and government in Greenland, respectively.

Sjurdur Skaale finds the power he suddenly holds over DAnish politics unreasonable

Sjúrður Skaale, the Faroese, won 3,804 votes at the polls in the Faroe Islands. In total, less than 15,000 voters invested in these three politicians, but if only one of them changes his or her mind tomorrow, the political situation in Copenhagen will be turned on its head. Somebody other than Frederiksen will win the power to lead negotiations to form the next government.


While we wait for the results, Frederiksen, a Social Democrat and acting prime minister, has won the mandate to lead the negotiations.

At the elections, her Social Democratic party and the center-left parties that support her won exactly 90 seats or a marginal majority of the 179 seats in parliament, but only if you include the three members from the North Atlantic who have chosen to support her.

We have to look back to a general election in 1998 to find a similar situation. The Danish prime minister of those days won another four years in office only through the support of a single politician from the Faroe Islands. The balance tipped when the Faroese support was declared on TV late into election night.

To top up the current turmoil, Sjurdur Skaale, the Faroese Social Democrat now re-elected into key position, argues that his own immediate hold on power is both undemocratic and illegitimate.

In and op-ed for JyllandsPosten, one of Denmark’s main media outles, he wrote last week:

“When a legitimate, democratic election leads to a result that is unfair and illegitimate, there is something wrong with the very system.”

“When many now find it problematic that I and the two Greenlandic members of parliament decide who will be prime minister, it confirms this very grave condition: The constitutional provisions for the four North Atlantic members might undermine Danish democracy.”

Outdated constitution

Skaale’s main point is that the Faroe Islands of today is a very different nation from the Faroe Islands of 1851, when the first Faroese politicians took their seats in the newly established parliament in Copenhagen.

In those days, the legislators in Copenhagen coined basically all legislation pertaining to the Faroe Island, and most people found it natural that Faroese politicians took part in the legislative process.

Today, as Sjurdur Skaale is at pains to explain, the kingdom works in radically different ways.

“The political development has led us far beyond the legal boundaries of the constitution. If the constitution is a size 42 shoe, the Danish realm is a size 47 foot,” Skaale writes.

Today, most legislation for the Faroe Island is designed and decided on by Lagtinget, the Faroese parliament, and Landsstyret, the Faroese government in Torshavn, just as most legislation in Greenland is designed and decided by Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, and Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government in Nuuk. The role of Folketinget has been greatly reduced.

“I now hold a seat in a parliament that does not legislate for the voters who have elected me,” Skaale wrote. He also finds it wrong that he can influence Danish legislation that will put burdens on Danes in Denmark, even if the Danish electorate cannot pay him back:

“Through the fiscal bill I can lay burdens on citizens who cannot punish me at the next elections. They cannot reach me. I am elected in another country,” he wrote.

Skaale has advocated an update to the Danish constitution for some time, but he has been unable to raise any sizeable support in Copenhagen and there is little support for his view in Greenland: “I see no reason to devalue the worth of our mandate. It is described in the constitution,” Aaja Chemnitz, one of the two re-elected members from Greenland told me a few days ago. She is currently using her suddenly swollen influence to push for, for instance, quick implementation of the largest ever investigation into possible Danish wrong-doings in Greenland, a project that was agreed prior to the elections.

Last year, when Skaale tried to win support for his views in Folketinget, Prime Minister Frederiksen answered with a dismissal:

“The four North Atlantic members of Folketinget bring something very, very important — a focus on the conditions that pertain in particular to the Faroe Islands and Greenland, but also to the combined efforts of the realm. I have no problems with or and suggestions for changes to the conditions under which we work.”


First published at 8 November 2022




Uncertainty reigns over the future of Arctic cooperation with Russia

november 4, 2022 • Af

The very first sentence in the new U.S. National Strategy for the Arctic Region almost didn’t make it into print.

The top sentence is meant to underscore the overarching desire of the U.S. to cooperate with the other seven nations in the Arctic: “The United States seeks an Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative.”

This pivotal wording was at the top of a final draft, when Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24 and new discussions erupted in the U.S. administration:

“Following the invasion of Ukraine, the question arose: Do we really imagine an Arctic that is both peaceful and cooperative? But at the end of the day we decided that the answer is yes. We still do have that vision. It is still our goal and ambition, even if it is harder to achieve now,” Ambassador David Balton, executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee in Washington, told me last week at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Ambassador David Balton, head of the US Arctic Executive Steering Commitee

“I think we all benefited from the peaceful and cooperative environment in the Arctic that we have had the luxury of experiencing since the end of the Cold War but which is now under threat“ he said.


I asked if he really believes that a resumption of cooperation with Russia in the Arctic will be possible in the foreseeable future. “I have to think so,” he said.

Russia conundrum

The Russia conundrum permeated this year’s Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland, involving some 2,000 attendees, including heads of states, the Crown Prince of Norway, Canada’s Governor General, ministers, ambassadors and scientists — but very few Russians and none affiliated with the Moscow government (or at least nobody known to be).

The seven western Arctic governments would like in principle to shun Russia; freeze cooperation, isolate President Vladimir Putin’s nation as a means of showing solidarity with Ukraine and punishing Russia’s violations of international law, human rights and other basic rules of civil conduct in Ukraine.

At the same time, however, several Arctic actors speaking from the assembly’s podiums or in private appeared painfully aware that a complete stop to cooperation with Russia in the Arctic would cause a host of problems and that some of the early restrictive measures, imposed soon after Russia’s invasion into Ukraine in February, may have to be relaxed.

Read more:

Russia’s Arctic provinces constitute half the landmass of the Arctic region and vast portions of the Arctic seas are within Russia’s exclusive economic zone or territorial boundaries. Also, non-Arctic nations like China and India are continuing cooperation with Russia in the Arctic.

“The Arctic cannot — we cannot afford long-lasting costs for suspension or paralysis,” China’s special envoy to the Arctic, Gao Feng said at the assembly.

Gao Feng, China’s special envoy for Arctic affairs, speaks at the Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, on October 15, 2022. (Melody Schreiber)

Mead Treadwell, a U.S. business investor, former chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission and former lieutenant general of Alaska, shared with me his thoughts, based on decades of cooperation with Russian partners:

“We cannot pretend that Russia does not exist just because we disagree with them. They have an agenda in the Arctic; they have allies like China. There are engineering firms not subject to sanctions who will work for them and countries like India who depend on them. To say ‘Russia is off, let us not pay attention to Russia’ is like saying we will not pay attention to the Arctic, the environment, shipping or the Indigenous peoples,” he said.

“It is important that we maintain contact. Since this horror in Ukraine started I have gotten messages from Russians friends who care about the future of the Arctic, who are sad for their country. Some even outwardly protesting. Without those networks, we only have spy satellites to tell us what goes on in Russia, and that is not good enough. It is important for our own security and for all that we are working on in the Arctic — environmental protection, safe oceans and so on. We need the personal connections so that we can hopefully get the governmental contacts back up at some point,” he said.

Much continues

Norway, while tough on sanctions on Russia and military support for Ukraine, continues its more than 50 years of cooperation with Russia on fish stock management in the Barents Sea. Like the Faroe Islands — a part of the Danish Kingdom — Norway also continues to service Russian fishing vessels in designated ports and Norwegian scientists are encouraged to continue private cooperation with Russian colleagues.

Other arrangements like search and rescue agreements with Russia are still operational in different parts of the Arctic, as a halt to such cooperation would potentially leave also seafarers of western Arctic countries to drown, should they need help from a Russian vessel.

Intergovernmental negotiations on fishing in the central part of the Arctic Ocean continues with Russia included; so do talks on the legal rights to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and other formal processes.

Some weather services, civil nuclear disaster preparedness, coast guard operations, search and rescue and other essential functions depend to varying degrees on cooperation with Russia. The same goes for globally significant Arctic climate science programs, sea ice monitoring, atmospheric research, permafrost observation, biodiversity studies and others.

How long a pause?

The seven western governments in the Arctic have put cooperation with Russia in the Arctic Council, including large and long term science projects, on “pause” — no official contact is allowed with Russian partners — and at the Arctic Circle Assembly several observers agreed that the pause might last for years or even decades.

Numerous science projects involving Russian scientists are halted. Photo: World Meteorological Institute

The urgent question facing a multitude of military bodies, government agencies, institutions of learning and science, private enterprises and non-governmental actors is how to maintain operations in the Arctic if formal cooperation with Russia remains down for years.

[Ukraine conflict hurts Russian science, as West pulls funding]

A multitude of dilemmas are still unresolved: Can some work involving Russians be maintained? Can contacts with official Russian non-military agencies on fisheries, the environment, sports or culture be sustained? Are all types of official research programs involving Russian scientists prohibited? Can U.S., Canadian or European Union grants somehow still be spent on projects involving Russians, even if contacts with official Russian institutions are halted? Can artists collaborate across Russia’s borders? Can they do so on government grants? Can the flow of data on climate change and biodiversity in Russia be maintained through official channels — or privately? What to do with Russians on temporary work stays in the West? Are Zoom meetings with Russians acceptable? Are physical meetings with Russians possible outside Russia? Can money transfers be made to struggling Russian colleagues?


Evan Bloom, senior fellow at the Wilson Center Polar Institute in Washington and a former Director of Ocean and Polar Affairs of the U.S. State Department foresaw a period of “operational coexistence” rather than cooperation with Russia, but what that means in practice remains murky:

“Russia is key to the Arctic. Russia makes up half of the Arctic and it is not clear what coexistence means in their absence,” he told a sizable group of spectators in Reykjavik.

The Arctic Council has allowed more than 70 joint projects not involving Russians to resume operations while Arctic Council projects and all EU projects with Russian participation remain frozen, including large multi-year programs of climate science and biodiversity.

I asked Evan Bloom if he expected western Arctic governments to partially relax the Arctic Council’s pause to allow projects of particular significance to continue:

“It is very hard at this point for governments to say ‘yes it is possible to work with Russian government institutions or Russians in general,”’ he said.

“It is more likely that private researchers will find a way to work with Russian colleagues in a somewhat informal way. In cases where there is no prohibition and it is not government funded research, there are probably some ways for that very valuable exchange to continue, even if it may be tricky.”

Balton echoed this approach but cautioned against the dangers that collaboration with western partners could mean for Russians actors:

“People-to-people efforts could put people in Russia in jeopardy. We don’t want that. On the other hand, certain activities, in particular science activities — we do need the data coming out of the Russian Arctic, and as government-to-government contacts are largely closed off now, we may have to rely on other forms of communication to get that data,” he told me.

Russians still involved

Research professor Timo Koivurova of the Arctic Center at the University of Lapland in Rovaniemi, Finland, presented at the assembly a study of how Russia’s war in Ukraine has completely altered Finland’s Arctic prospects:

“There will be no return to the pre-war reality,” the report, commissioned by the office of the Finnish prime minister in Helsinki, said.

The report recounts a host of new challenges to Finland. The EU, for instance, has stopped all Russian involvement in Arctic cross-border environmental programs worth millions of Euros. This is especially painful to Finland, who share a border of some 1,300 kilometers with Russia.

“The paralysis of international cooperation and research in the Arctic region is particularly problematic. Many measures related to the sustainability of the Arctic require extensive international and regional cooperation, as nature and the environment do not change in line with national borders,” the report reads.

In Reykjavik, Koivurova recalled for me an interview he did with a Finnish official who works with Russian colleagues to protect the many rivers crossing the Finland-Russia border:

“She asked me why we now have to punish the environment,” Koivurova said.

He reminded his audience that Russia has not given up on Arctic cooperation even if bodies like the Arctic Council and the Barents Euro-Arctic Council have frozen all relations with Russia:

“Russia is represented in almost all intergovernmental organizations and treaty processes relevant to the Arctic. In all the legal circumpolar processes that we have been able to identify, the Russians are there and continuing the work. This shows us the power of international law, and I think it is a good thing,“ Koivoruva told me.

“We have seen the international prohibition on the use of force being broken before, for instance by the U.S. in Iraq. I fully support the sanctions against Russia — the war in Ukraine is horrible — but as academics we also have to look at the bigger picture,” he said.

Science suffers

As many links to Russia are down, the flow of Arctic data into the global climate models is one likely victim. A few weeks prior to the Arctic Circle Assembly I attended a meeting in Keflavik, Iceland of INTERACT, a network of Arctic research stations. One of the founders of the network, British biologist Terry Callaghan, who was included in the IPCC’s Nobel Peace Prize award, has worked in the Arctic for more than 55 years. He has had to put many long-lasting cooperations with state-affiliated Russian partners on hold with no hope of resumption in sight, but still collaborates with individual Russian scientists outside of the EU-funded INTERACT activities.

[Russia’s climate goals and science are also casualties of Putin’s war in Ukraine]

“This whole break of collaborations is a huge and tragic loss. There are Russians on the ground on half the Arctic landmass who are observing day to day what is happening. And this is not a trivial part of the Arctic, but land which is key to the feedbacks that will determine what happens to the climate and to biodiversity on the rest of the Earth. We can look at satellite images and see what is happening on the surface but we cannot understand why we see changes. We need people on the ground,” Callaghan told me.

“It has taken 30 odd years to build up trust and collaboration since the Soviet Union fell apart. Once that trust is destroyed it is not a fast process building it up again. We have to try to maintain some bridges. I don’t believe collaborations on carbon emissions or biodiversity or medical science is going to hurt anybody. If we have no bridges at all, it will be a disaster for the future,“ he said.

Researchers based at the Toolik Field Station, on Alaska’s North Slope, work on an Arctic Lake. (Craig McCaa / BLM)

Professor Syndonia Bret-Harte, science co-director at Toolik Field Station of the University of Alaska, the largest Arctic field station in the U.S., also recommended contact be maintained with Russian partners as long as their safety in Russia was not imperiled.

“Very few people in the West speak Russian, so we are dependent on the Russian scientists to tell us what is going on. Also, the pause (of the Arctic Council) has made it much more difficult for Russian scientists to do science because their sources of funding have been reduced. I think there is going to be a big gap in knowledge. We will still have some sort of knowledge like remote sensing, but you will not have the on-the-ground perspective, which is very valuable,” she said.

“The longer the pause lasts the harder it is going to be to get things restarted. I think the sanctions against Russia are appropriate and I don’t have a problem complying with them. But I feel quite strongly that the efforts of individual people to collaborate should not be restricted. Putin’s efforts to isolate his people — I don’t think we need to help him do that.”

First published on 22. October 2022. 


The largest ever probe into possible historical Danish wrongdoings in Greenland is about to begin

oktober 6, 2022 • Af

The largest ever investigation into possible abuses in Greenland by the former Danish colonial powers or more recent Danish governments is about to begin.

In June this year, the head of Naalakkersuisut, Greenland’s government, Múte B. Egede and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen of Denmark, from where I write, agreed on a joint effort to investigate all major relevant incidents in the seven decades since the second world war.

Mette Frederiksen and Muté B. Egede signining in June their agreement to begin a joint investigation. Photo: The Primeministers office

Their joint statement received surprisingly little public attention, but it revealed an astonishing ambition:

“The investigation will cover the period from the second world war until today. The investigation will focus on the most important political decision, events and other circumstances that shaped the development of Greenland and its population as well as the relation between the two countries,” it said.

At no time in the past has any Danish government shown willingness to partake in such a wide-reaching and deep-probing exercise.

The statement by the two leaders was kept deliberately short and vague, leaving room for the civil servants to design in detail the more precise and potentially controversial mandate for the investigation. It is due later this month; the decisive proportions of the probe, its format, financing and duration is being hammered out as I write this.

Political will

Meanwhile, there is no reason to doubt the political will of the two political leaders behind the investigation.

In Greenland, anger over an extensive series of historical incidents — as well as more recent ones — and what might possibly amount to systematic violations of basic rights of Greenlanders has been brewing for generations and Egede added a separate statement to the joint communique: “During later years we have witnessed how one sad story has been revealed after the other. Stories that have carried with them great personal costs to the individuals involved. All of the people of Greenland stand behind the demand that a historical investigation be carried out,” he said.

In Denmark, Frederiksen has been contemplating a deeper probe for several years. After her first visit to Greenland in 2015, she told me that “it is quite a lot easier to establish a cooperation between Denmark and Greenland, if both parties acknowledge that mistakes have been made through time. You cannot spend many hours in Greenland before you realize that history and also its darker sides play a large role for many there.”

In June she was quoted in the formal press release as follows: “We have recently become aware of cases and processes that bear witness that there are still chapters of our common history that we have not yet uncovered. I am happy that we have made this joint decision about a historical investigation for the benefit of our two countries and for reconciliation with our common past.”

The upcoming probe must be understood in this light. The Danish prime minister most likely finds the entire exercise essential for future cooperation with Greenland. By acting on her conviction that a common approach to the past, including its troublesome sides, is necessary if reconciliation is to be achieved, she aims to restore Greenland’s faith in cooperation with Denmark at a time when Greenland and the Arctic is becoming still more important to Denmark.

No thanks

A few isolated events have been investigated on earlier occasions, reported on and even officially apologized for by shifting Danish governments, but we have not seen more encompassing investigations like that of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission or that of the ongoing investigations in Sweden, Norway and Finland. In those countries long-standing and possibly discriminatory practices against Sámi and other ethnic minorities are being scrutinized by other truth and reconciliation bodies.

Some will find that a thorough probe in the Danish kingdom is long overdue. The first Danish-Norwegian missionaries settled in Greenland in 1721 and Greenland was a de facto Danish colony from then on. From 1953, Greenland became an integral part of Denmark; Greenlanders are Danish citizens. Phenomenal changes, often spearheaded by Denmark, has taken place in Greenland since, so it is no surprise that the upcoming investigation will be pinned to this particular period of time.

Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam, Greenlandic member of the Danish parliament, talked of “genocide” when the latest scandal was unearthed. Photo: Siumut

In many respects, Greenland is an autonomous nation, ruled and regulated by Naalakkersuisut, the government in Nuuk, but the island and its people are is still part of the Danish Kingdom and subjects to the Danish constitution.

A separate Greenlandic Reconciliation Commission worked in Greenland from 2014-2017, but with limited impact. The then-head of Greenland’s government Aleqa Hammond often argued openly with the political establishment in Denmark (and she also caused controversy in Greenland).

When asked about potential Danish involvement in the reconciliatory commission proposed by Hammond, Denmark’s prime minister at the time, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, offered only an icy no thanks: “We don’t have a need for reconciliation,” she quipped.

The Greenlandic commission remained a local initiative and it only indirectly probed the events and processes that are often talked about in Greenland as systemic abuses caused by Danes or Denmark’s colonization of Greenland. Eyewitnesses and other people in Greenland were heard, recommendations written, but the Greenlandic commission suffered from a frequent exchange of personnel and shifting levels of political support from the political leaders in Nuuk.

Latest scandal

News of the upcoming joint investigation coincided with widespread consternation in Greenland over the latest scandal.

A Greenland women’s magazine Arnanut did the first interviews with women involved and in May this year the Danish Broadcasting Corporation revealed how, from 1966 to 1975, some 4,000 women — about half of the fertile women in Greenland —had an intrauterine contraceptive device or coil inserted as part of a campaign by the Danish health authorities.

Many of those affected were only 15-16 years old, and many did not understand what happened to them. Some of those interviewed told of horrific pains that lasted for years. Long-forgotten documents revealed that the health authorities in Copenhagen at the time were eager to halt the rapid population growth in Greenland, the rising number of single mothers and an accompanying hike in public expenditure.

As the details of the campaign were unraveled, one of the two Greenlandic members of the Danish parliament, Aki-Mathilda Høegh-Dam, dubbed the campaign ”genocide,” and when I visited Nuuk a few weeks ago with members of the Danish Foreign Policy Society, we were told how others in Greenland shared her indignation:

“My initial reaction was that ‘genocide’ was probably an exaggeration, but as the scope of the scandal has become clear it is actually not wrong. Thousands of Greenlandic lives were never born. Very young girls and women were forced to not have children or did not understand the implications,” said Asii Narup Chemnitz, one of Greenland’s most experienced politicians, a former mayor of Nuuk and now a member of Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament, for the governing Inuit Ataqatigiit party.

A deputy chairperson of the Siumut party, Inga Dora Markussen, who has teen-age daughters of her own, told us she wept as she learned of the campaign.

”The state has no right whatsoever to violate anybody’s virginity. This deed can never be justified — never,” she wrote on Facebook, demanding ”an unreserved apology from the Danish state” and ”tangible compensation.”

Equal numbers

In writing about the upcoming joint investigation, Inge Høst Seiding, head of the Institute of Language, Culture and History at the University of Greenland, argued that equal numbers of Greenlandic and Danish researchers should be involved. If not enough are available in Greenland, they should be educated as part of the investigative exercise, she argued. She also recommended that ordinary citizens be heard and engaged, youth included. In Greenland, the experts talk of intergenerational trauma or psychological wounds that are passed from the victims of abuse to their children or even grandchildren.

The 2010 film “Eksperimentet” (The Experiment), based on the 1998 book that brought the program to light, follows the lives of the children taken from their families to be assimilated into Danish culture after their return to Greenland (Nimbus Film)

“Memories are carried by living people, but also by their descendants as recollections  of unwanted relocations from hamlets to towns, adoptions out of the country, divided families, segregation by language and the feeling of not moving forward in life in your own country,” Seiding wrote in an op-ed for Altinget, a Danish news outlet.

No pope expected

Few if any observers expect that the upcoming Danish-Greenlandic investigation will uncover hitherto unknown assaults on the lives and physical integrity of men, women and children in Greenland to the extent now known from the Canadian north through Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As previously reported, even Pope Francis found it necessary to react to the findings in Canada, begging as he did during a recent visit of penance “forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples.” The Pope was speaking in particular of the many residential schools that were homes to tens of thousands of Indigenous Canadian children forcibly removed from their communities as Canada’s government — and the Catholic Church — tried to rid them of traits of their origins. Many suffered physical and sexual abuse.

Pope Francis attends a public event in a plaza outside of Nakasuk Elementary School in Iqaluit, Nunavut on July 29, 2022. (Vatican Media /­ Handout via Reuters)

There is no indication of crimes of this magnitude in Greenland, but the catalog of what is often interpreted as Danish abuse is impressive. Examples include: the forced relocation of those who lived close to Thule Air Base in 1953; the closure of dozens of small settlements in Greenland in the 1950s and 1960s; the absence of a referendum in Greenland in 1952, as Greenland changed from colony to integral part of Denmark; the lack of subsequent equality between Danes and Greenlanders; the closure of Qullissat, a mining town, in 1972; the “birthplace-criteria” that gave, until 1989, Danes in Greenland much higher salaries than their local colleagues; the segregation of all school children in Danish- and Greenlandic-speaking classes; the so-called “experiment children”  who in the 1960s were sent on extended stays in Denmark in order for them to become more Danish; the “legally fatherless,” who were not entitled to inherit from their Danish fathers when the fathers abandoned them and repatriated to Denmark; the many children adopted by visiting Danish families and the discrimination of Greenlanders in Denmark  — just to name a few.

To get a better idea of the challenges the upcoming investigation will face I called on Astrid Nonbo Andersen, a historian of ideas at the Danish Institute of International Studies and one of Denmark’s leading researchers of truth and reconciliation processes:

“This will be a very, very large exercise. An investigation into all major incidents through seven decades. Think about it for a moment,” she said.

She expects that a least a handful of academic researchers will be roaming archives in Greenland and Denmark for at least five years: “Parts of the archives are not in a very good condition, so one has to dig carefully,” she says.

She also assumes that hearings of eyewitnesses still alive in Denmark and Greenland will be necessary: “What happened to the Greenlanders over time was not necessarily put in writing. It may be something that was felt and talked about in Greenland, but not automatically experiences that were written down,” she said.

Reconciliation how?

There will be particular focus on how the investigation will pursue actual reconciliation.

“Reconciliation with our common past” was highlighted as a goal in the June statement from Greenland and Denmark’s political leaders, and — as Andersen explained to me — the mere provision of facts and figures is not likely to do the job:

“The ‘coil campaign’ is a good example,” she said.

“It is good that the campaign is now out in the open, but in the first instance this has only led to more bitterness and anger in Greenland. It has not brought any immediate relief to the relation between Denmark and Greenland. Reconciliation is all about how you handle such cases,” she told me.

Previous Danish investigations of wrongdoings by the authorities have been based, she finds, on a belief that facts will bring reconciliation by themselves, but reconciliation is not that easy.

To those subjected to abuse, giving evidence of the abuse may cause re-traumatization, just as new Greenlandic accusations against Denmark, Danish institutions or individuals will likely cause indignation and anger in Denmark.

In the end, we should perhaps expect not too many indisputable truths. In Canada for example, the government and communities in the North maintain that the apologies of Pope Francis did not cover all abuses committed by the Catholic church.

As Andersen told me: “Any historian will know that the final word is never said. There will always be new discoveries, new interpretations and explanations. We have to recognize just how long-term any reconciliation is likely to be.”

This text was first published on October 5th 2022. Shortly after, a general election was called in Denmark. This might delay the mandate of the joint investigation mentioned in the text. 


Rusland vil afbryde samarbejdet med Vesten i Arktis

september 12, 2022 • Af
Placeholder image

Ved Arktisk Råds ministermøde i Reykjavik i Island i maj 2021 overdrog Islands udenrigsminister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson (t.h.) formandshammeren til Ruslands udenrigsminister Sergei Lavrov (t.v.). I dag er Arktisk Råd sat på ubestemt pause p.g.a. Ruslands invasion i Ukraine; samarbejdet er brudt sammen. Foto: Icelandic Ministry for Foreign Affairs/Gunnar Vigfússon

For få dage siden fik vi et dystert indblik i, hvordan Arktis måske vil se ud efter den russiske præsident Vladimir Putins krig i Ukraine. uslands Minister for Udvikling af Arktis og Ruslands fjernøstlige provinser, Aleksey Olegovich Chekunkov, beskrev den 30. august på det russiske mediehus RBCs hjemmeside en verden, hvor Rusland ikke længere samarbejder med Vesten i Arktis.

Chekunkov anbefaler ikke bare en udskiftning af Ruslands vestlige partnere i Arktis med kinesiske, indiske og andre østlige venner. Han ønsker et egentligt brud med 300 års russisk fokus mod vest; et altfavnende paradigmeskifte mod øst baseret på den kinesiske krigsfilosof Sun Tzu. Det gælder om at have tålmodighed, lange tidshorisonter, en fast kurs og om at bygge på egne styrker. Chekunkov tænker her især på Ruslands arktiske reserver af olie, gas, guld, zink, sjældne jordartsmetaller, diamanter, fisk og andre råstoffer men også på hvede og andre russiske eksportvarer længere sydpå.
“Rusland har alt, hvad der skal til for at klare vanskelighederne og opnå høje økonomiske vækstrater, følge med den teknologiske udvikling og indtage sin rette plads i en foranderlig verden. Vores “drejning mod Øst” skal ske ikke bare ved at skifte partnere, med ved at skifte paradigme. Vi kan udnytte vores styrker og øge vores eksportindtjening fra vores naturressourcer. Vi kan stimulere vores økonomi og øge livskvaliteten for befolkningen gennem store investeringer i byfornyelse og infrastruktur. Vi skal koncentrere investeringerne på uddannelse, så vi sikrer fremtiden,” skriver Chekunkov i sin kronik. 

Chekunkov vil forfølge de asiatiske tigerøkonomiers model “over generationer” – og det er på høje tid, mener han.

“Ti af Ruslands 15 største handelspartnere har indført sanktioner, der rammer 40 procent af vores handel. Halvdelen af vores guld og valutareserver – 300 milliarder dollars – er fastfrosne. Russiske banker er blevet afkoblet fra det internationale betalingssystem. Russisk industri er afskåret fra den teknologi, der skal bruges til at producere tusinder af ton varer fra papir til satellitter. Himlen er lukket for vores flyvemaskiner, grænserne er lukket for fragt og for russerne selv,” lyder det fra den arktiske minister.

Ruslands landmasse udgør halvdelen af hele den arktiske region, og vendingen mod øst er for længst i gang: Vestlige olie- og teknologikoncerner trækker sig ud af arbejdet på gas-terminalerne på Yamal-halvøen; de største industriprojekter i Arktis nogensinde. Kina er allerede den største udenlandske investor i disse mega-projekter, og Chekunkov vil videre: Flere kinesiske og indiske partnere og et fuldt udviklet asiatisk udviklingsmønster. Et fuldstændigt paradigmeskifte for det russiske nord.

Permanent pause?

Måske dækker Chekunkovs kronik over en dybere angst for fremtiden. Han indrømmer blankt, at de vestlige sanktioner bider hårdt. Det skaber eksempelvis dybe vanskeligheder for logistikken i det russiske nord, at alle vestlige containere er trukket ud.

Men hans melding åbner for en mørkere fremtid, der allerede anedes, da de syv vestlige regeringer i Arktis efter Rusland invasion i Ukraine satte samarbejdet med Rusland i Arktisk Råd og andre arktiske fora “på pause”, som det hed.

Arktisk Råd har siden 1996 været det primære rum for forhandlinger om Arktis mellem Rusland og de syv vestlige nationer i Arktis og de arktiske folkeslag. Rådet har to gange været indstillet til Nobels Fredspris.

Vanskelig fælles indsats

Arktisk Råd har sikret, at Rusland i de seneste 25 år er blevet inddraget i klima- og miljøovervågning, forebyggelse af oliekatastrofer, redningsarbejde til søs, sikring af forskeres ret til at krydse grænser, indsatser til gavn for dem, der bor i Arktis.

Rusland har taget del i en vanskelig og langsommelig men fælles indsats til sikring af bæredygtig udvikling i Arktis midt i verdens voldsomste klimaforandringer og et heftigt boom i råstofudvindingen, fiskeriet og andre industrier.

Rusland har været godt tilfreds med Arktis Råd, der har fungeret som konsensus-apparat, hvor Rusland ikke kunne nedstemmes af et vestligt flertal. Rådet har til Ruslands udtalte fornøjelse også garanteret, at andre nationer, især Kina, blev holdt ude af den arktiske magtcirkel.

I dag er Arktisk Råds funktion som samlingspunkt for hele Arktis reelt kollapset. Årsagen er Ruslands invasion i Ukraine, men konsekvenserne skal vi alle leve med.

De syv vestlige nationer i Arktis Råd satte i marts formelt som nævnt kun samarbejdet “på pause”. Døren kan åbnes igen; men det står ikke klart, hvad der skal til, før det sker – eller hvornår. De vestlige regeringer ved det ikke selv, og Putins folk ved det heller ikke. I mellemtiden er mere end 70 forsknings- og udviklingsprojekter i Arktisk Råds regi sat i gang igen uden Ruslands medvirken – til Ruslands udtalte vrede.

I værste fald tegner Chekunkovs kronik en ny, fast forståelse i Kreml. Måske giver samarbejdet med vesten i Arktis, som Rusland metodisk er indgået i siden 1990’erne, bare ikke længere mening i Kreml. Chekunkov nævner i sin kronik ikke Arktisk Råd med ét ord.

Rådvilde Vesten

På den vestlige side hersker rådvildheden. Jeg har i de seneste uger talt med forskere og diplomater fra flere arktiske nationer; været til workshop i Udenrigsministeriet, talt med iagttagere i Stockholm m.v. Intetsteds høres noget bud på, hvordan Arktisk Råd måske kunne heles og genopstå.

Heller ikke den tidligere amerikanske Arktis-diplomat Evan T. Bloom, der i dag arbejder ved det anerkendte Wilson Centers Polar Institute i Washington, tilbyder nogen plan. I sidste uge forsøgte han at pege fremad på nyhedssitet ArcticToday, men reelt lød hans råd blot, at de vestlige lande ikke bør skeje helt ud og stifte et nyt, alternativt Arktisk Råd uden Rusland – en tanke, der i forvejen ingen synlig opbakning har.

Tavlen er blank. Måske kan Arktisk Råd ad åre genopstå i en form, hvor hele Arktis taler sammen igen, men Chekunkovs kronik peger ikke i den retning.

Vi må i stedet forestille os, at de syv vestlige nationer i Arktis (de fem nordiske, USA og Canada) i fremtiden kan være tvunget til at forsøge at sikre bæredygtig, fredelig udvikling i Arktis uden den ene halvdel af Arktis. De skal i så fald finde helt nye veje, hvis Rusland skal indlemmes i fremtidens aftaler om forureningsbekæmpelse i Arktis, bæredygtigt fiskeri, beskyttede havzoner, sikkerhed til søs – for slet ikke at tale om det akutte behov for dialog om freden i Arktis, forebyggelse af militære fejl, misforståelser og sammenstød.

Vi må også forstå, at EU’s store vision om et klima-stop for olie- og gasudvinding i Arktis måske må forfølges uden Rusland, og at Rusland satser stadig hårdere på olie- og gas.

Politikerne i København og Nuuk må desuden til at fundere over, hvad den ny skillelinje i Arktis vil betyde for Danmarks og Grønlands store arktiske interessekonflikt med Moskva.

Rusland kræver retten til ressourcerne på 75 pct af havbunden i den internationale del af Det Arktiske Ocean; Danmarks og Grønlands fælles krav til havbunden overlapper Ruslands med mere end en million kvadratkilometer. Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste har i nogle år advaret om, at også den sag kan udvikle sig uheldigt.

Klimaforskning lider

Forskningen i klimaet i Arktis lider allerede. Den britiske professor og Nobelpristager Terry Callaghan, der har mere end 50 års prisvindende polarforskning bag sig, skrev for nylig til mig, at også han har måtte sætte sine mange samarbejder med russiske kolleger på pause – og han ved ikke, hvornår de kan genoptages.

Forskere, der vedligeholder datasæt om permafrost, havtemperaturer, is og atmosfæriske forandringer i Arktis, må fremover måske undvære data fra halvdelen af Arktis. Selv når det formelt er lovligt, tør mange russiske forskere ikke længere samarbejde med deres vestlige kolleger.

Det er skidt for klimaet, men hele afkobling er også dårligt nyt for de russere, der har haft personlig glæde af samarbejdet. Måske må de helt lukke vinduet til et vores vestlige samfundssystem. Ingen videnskabsdiplomati, igen udveksling af studerende, ingen kontakter mellem forretningsfolk, embedsmænd eller folk i uniform.

Det lille Barents-sekretariat i Kirkenes på den norske side af den norsk-russiske grænse kæmper med accept fra Oslo tappert for at holde et minimum af kontakter levende på tværs af grænsen, men det er muligvis snart blot undtagelsen, der bekræfter reglen.


Denne tekst optrådte første gang på Altinget/Arktis 12.09 2022


Several “islands” recorded as the northernmost on Earth are probably only icebergs

september 5, 2022 • Af
This is one of the most astonishing stories, I have covered in the Arctic – and for a short while, I was part of the story myself. But before your read on, check this picture – and think about it for a second. Is this an island – or something else?
This new and until-then-unrecorded island lookalike, now believed to be an iceberg covered with gravel, was discovered during the Leister Go North 2022 expedition. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

For years, a heated international debate has been ongoing among explorers, scientists, island-hunters and other interested parties about which is indeed the northernmost island on Earth.

Since 1978, what has appeared to be a mushrooming family of smaller islands north of Greenland has fueled the discussion as still new members of the family were spotted. At least seven of these phenomena have been recorded and celebrated by visiting explorers, adventurers and scientists.

In the summer of 2021, five members of a Swiss-Danish science expedition, including this reporter, landed in a helicopter on yet another and until then undiscovered ice-and-gravel phenomenon about two kilometers north of the Greenland mainland.

When we returned home and as our aerial photography was studied more closely, the muddy but sturdy structure turned out to be about 80 by 30 meters, rising to about two meters above sea level. We came to believe it was indeed at the time the northernmost island in the world — or at least some sort of almost-island located in this very special geographical spot.

Several passing expeditions, explorers and scientists have recorded the structures in the shallow waters north of Greenland as islands. New findings say that they are not; these are icebergs partly or fully covered with gravel and only temporarily stuck on the seabed. When they melt, they will disappear again. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

What are they?

Now, a year later and following a new expedition counting Swiss and Danish scientists as well as two experts reporting to the Danish authorities, the issue of the small and poorly understood island-like structures has possibly been settled once and for all.

“For many years we all thought that storms from the north pushed sea ice from the Arctic Ocean towards Greenland, where the ice then forced sediments from the seabed towards the surface, so that these new islands were formed, but that is not the case,“ Rene Forsberg, a professor of physical geodesy with DTU Space at the Technical University of Denmark, told me at his office in Copenhagen.

Rene Forsberg and Martin Nissen, a geographer from the Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure, camped for two weeks with the Leister Go North 2022 expedition at Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost point. The expedition, like the Leister Around North Greenland Expedition in 2021, were funded by the Leister Foundation in Switzerland.

A rock measuring about 1 by 1 meter on the top of the “island” discovered in 2021. According to Rene Forsberg of the Technical University of Denmark, this is probably not sediment from the seabed, but part of the luggage carried first by a glacier and then an iceberg from Greenland’s interior into the sea. (Rene Forsberg)

New surveys

Martin Nissen and Rene Forsberg joined the expedition this year to survey the structures in the waters north of Greenland for the authorities in Copenhagen. While Greenland — the world’s largest island — enjoys a large degree of political autonomy, the mapping of Greenland is still a responsibility of the government in Denmark.

During the two weeks of surveying, GPS mapping and lidar (or laser) mapping from a helicopter was carried out alongside bathymetric measurements both in the waters close to the disputed island-structure and also close to a new and previously unmapped member of the family. Some of the island-structures that were recorded years ago have disappeared and were therefore, of course, not subject to any measurement.

The icebergs long believed to be islands north of Greenland most likely stem from glaciers like this at Kap Christian IV, some 50 kilometers west of Kap Morris Jesup, Greenland’s northernmost tip. (Rene Forsberg)

A peer-reviewed scientific rendering of the collected data will be published in the future, but a preliminary conclusion has been put into a press release.

“The new bathymetry observations confirmed all the ‘islands’ to be located at water depths in the range of 25-45 m, which uniquely confirmed all ‘islands’ to be grounded icebergs, with an usual cover of glacial soil, pebbles and rock debris, forming a new category of semi-stationary ice islands,” the press release reads.

In other words, and according to these new findings, all the structures recorded since 1978 are not islands in any classical sense of the word, but simply icebergs partly or fully covered by gravel and temporarily stranded on the seabed in the shallows north of Greenland.

Drilling for depth

Forsberg and Nissen also measured the water depth right next to the island-like structure that was discovered in the summer of 2021 during the Leister Around North Greenland expedition.

“We drilled through three meters of ice on both sides of your ‘island,’ and concluded with the help of ordinary echo sounders that the water is about 27 meters deep in this particular spot. When we drilled, we stood on the frozen sea 27 meters above the seabed. We concluded that the gravel on top of the iceberg — which you took for an island — presently lies 29 meters above the seabed,” Forsberg told me.

“We also determined that about nine-tenths of the iceberg lies under water, just like icebergs usually do. It is stuck on the seabed. Only when it melts sufficiently will it travel onwards,” he said. According to Forsberg, the new measurements correlate lidar measurements of the iceberg done earlier this year as Forsberg passed overhead in a fixed-wing plane.

Moving east

The gravel-covered structures north of Greenland — icebergs, ice-islands or ghost-islands, as you like — are potentially short-lived, but nobody knows exactly when they will disappear again.

The icebergs have most likely broken off from glaciers on Greenland’s mainland to the west of Greenland’s northernmost point, Kap Morris Jesup. These glaciers, like dozens of other glaciers in Greenland, carry with them gravel from Greenland’s interior. After breaking off into the sea from the calving glaciers, the icebergs drifted eastward. Those still visible are now temporarily stranded in the relatively shallow waters just north of Cape Morris Jesup and new ones will continue to appear.

Holes were drilled in the ice three meters thick next to one of the ghost-islands north of Greenland. Echo sounders were guided through the holes so that water depths could be determined. (Martin Nissen / Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure)

“We don’t know when they will disappear again. But we now know that the northernmost island in the world is still Kaffeklubben Ø or Coffee Club Island. That is the northernmost land point on Earth, closest to the North Pole,” Forsberg told me, pointing at Coffee Club Island, or Inuit Qeqertaat in Greenlandic, on his digital map.

Inuit Qeqertaat lies somewhat closer to shore than the disputed icebergs. The small, roundish and storm-scarred island, some 30 meters high at the top, lies at 83°39’55” North, 30°37’45”West. It was named Kaffeklubben Ø by Danish explorer Lauge Koch in 1921, but was likely seen already by U.S. explorer Robert E. Peary during an expedition in 1900.

The Danish Agency for Data Supply and Infrastructure is currently mapping all ice-free land in Greenland in an exercise that also involves U.S. satellites, the U.S. National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, the Danish defense forces and Greenland’s Self Rule Authority. The ice-free parts of Greenland’s landmass cover an area roughly the size of Norway; Greenland’s inland ice sheet is not included.

In 1978, as the first of the stranded icebergs was discovered, it was named Oodaaq Island after a famous Greenlandic dog handler. For years, Oodaaq Island, which lies a bit north of Inuit Qeqertaat, was talked about as the northernmost island in the world and added to formal Danish maps of Greenland. Now, as Oodaaq Island changes in status from island to iceberg, it will be scrapped from the maps again.

“Oodaaq Island will not appear on the maps when we publish our new maps of Greenland, most likely later this year,” Martin Nissen told me.

This story first appeared at August 31st 2022