How we discovered the norternmost island on Earth (II)

september 2, 2021 • Af

We were a team of five from the Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021, a Swiss-Danish scientific expedition, that landed on the island in a small chartered helicopter in late July.

We were convinced that we had landed on Oodaap Qeqertaa — or Oodaaq Island — an islet north of Greenland first sighted in 1978 by Danish geodesists and identified as the northernmost of its kind.

It was approaching midnight, when, unhindered by fog or any other onslaught of nasty weather, we set out from our quarters at a mining camp in Citronen Fjord.

Parts of our team flew in a Twin Otter toward Cape Morris Jesup, the northernmost tip of Greenland’s landmass and thus the northernmost point of land in the world, while the rest of us made a detour with the helicopter trying to locate Oodaap Qeqertaa and, if possible, make a brief landing there.

An aerial view of the island showing its expanse – notice the read helicopter from Air Greenland (Photo: Julian Charrière / Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021 / © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn, Germany) Click to enlarge


We flew for about an hour over the wondrously majestic mountains of Pearyland, Greenland’s northernmost glacier-graced region, and then conducted a brief search of the shallow waters beyond of the flat reaches of northern Greenland’s coastal planes. Above the icy waters, resplendent in the late-night sun, the pilot soon spotted what we all agreed had to be Oodaap Qeqertaa.

The pilot scanned the area for polar bears and then landed on this otherwise stark, unassuming bank of gravel, sea ice, windblown snow patches, yellowish mud and a number of cone-shaped piles of gravel and rock, each standing a meter or two high. The coordinates on the helicopter’s instrument panel told us that we were at 83° 40′ 59.1″ North and 030° 41′ 52.2″ West. The precise size of the islet was hard to ascertain as it was ringed by ice, but I guessed it was less than 30 meters from one end to the other; a more serious estimation later concluded that it is perhaps 60 x 80 meters. Much is covered by icefloes, so the exact size is hard to ascertain.

We didn’t spend much time there, less than an hour, but, as I related in an earlier account, we managed a brief ceremonial swim; it wasn’t particularly pleasant, but it was a fitting gesture to mark a special moment.

A camera drone was launched, a small cairn was built and a notice left in the name of the expedition. Our expedition coordinator, Morten Rasch, a Danish coastal geomorphologist, waved a Greenlandic flag. Oodaap Qeqertaa was named after one of the legendary Greenlandic sled pilots from the Thule district, indispensable as they were to the early mapping of northern Greenland in the first part of the 20th century.

Not Oodaaq after all

It wasn’t until a couple of weeks later, when we had returned home, that we discovered to our surprise that we hadn’t been where we thought we were.

It began when an old acquaintance, Rene Forsberg, a professor at DTU Space, the Danish national space institute, heard through the grapevine about our expedition and the trip to what we at the time thought was Oodaap Qeqertaa. He wrote to ask for the precise coordinates of our helicopter’s landing spot and then subjected them to a more precise comparison with the coordinates of Oodaap Qeqertaa that were recorded in 1978.

It was at this time we learned that the precise positioning of the world’s northernmost island is more than a matter of idle trivia for the amusement of a group of adventurous spirits who share an interest in the Arctic.

Case in point: the location of Oodaap Qeqertaa, as it was registered in 1978, was used as the northernmost point on the coastline of Greenland by the Danish government and Greenland’s Self-Rule Authority in their 2014 joint submission to the UN Continental Shelf Commission. The submission makes the Kingdom of Denmark’s case for why it should be awarded the rights to vast tracts of seabed in the central part of the Arctic Ocean. Russia and Canada have their own substantial interests in this part of the ocean.

Forsberg and DTU Space are advisors to the Danish authorities, including the Foreign Ministry, in surveying Greenland and identifying its farthest reaches. He soon established that, according to our pilot’s coordinates, the island we visited on July 27 was positioned significantly further off the coast and to the north of the position registered for Oodaap Qeqertaa in 1978.

Forsberg has more than just a passing knowledge of the matter: as a student back in 1978, he was part of the official Danish expedition that first spotted Oodaap Qeqertaa and added it to the formal records, but his conclusion left no doubt.

“You were on something that lies some 800 meters further out than the old Oodaaq Ø,” he said, using the Danish name. “It is a new island that has not been mapped before, and you can be fairly certain that it is currently the northernmost island in the world. You have discovered an island that is of a type that comes and goes. I once flew over an island in this area and watched as it was flattened by three-meter-thick ice floe. The islands that American expeditions have identified at approximately the same latitude have most likely disappeared again. You can see them easily from a helicopter but you didn’t see any other than the one you landed on.”

Short-lived sister islands

Our belief that we had indeed been on world’s northernmost island, and that it had not been Oodaap Qeqertaa, grew stronger after reading an article in Polar Record 2019 titled “Oodaaq Ø and other short-lived islets north of Greenland,” by Danish geologist Ole Bennike and U.S. explorer Jeff Shea.

The two authors recounted how no less than seven small islands, including Oodaap Qeqertaa, have been registered in the shallow waters off the tip of Greenland since 1978 by Danish and American expeditions (which may account for some of the names given to them: 1996 American Top of the World Island, Stray Dog West and 2003 Euro-American Island). All of them seem to have disappeared again. According to Bennike and Shea, Oodaap Qeqertaa has not been seen since 1980, and there are no sightings of any of the other six registered islets after 2008.

Rasch, our coastal geomorphologist, who is the scientific director of Arctic Station, the oldest research station in Greenland, explained that an islet in these waters, formed by old moraine that has been pushed above the surface by sea ice, can disappear as rapidly as it comes when ice floes are shifted about in the shallow waters by winds, waves and currents.

Head of Expedition, Swiss industrialist Christiane Leister poses next to the little cairn built by the expedition on the new island. (Photo: Henrik Lassen)

We brought back Ziploc bags containing mud and gravel samples for analysis. These are currently being examined by another member of our expedition, Anders Priemé, a microbial ecologist with the Institute of Biology at the University of Copenhagen. He will attempt to isolate DNA from microorganisms in the samples, most likely bacteria, and compare them with international databases.

“Since there is a big difference between bacteria in soil and in marine environments, the composition of bacteria will reveal whether the island is mostly marine or terrestrial,” he wrote in an email. “It is most likely that we will find both types of bacteria, but I hope to find a dominance of bacteria from one of the two types of environments. And yes, if I only find bacteria from a marine environment, then it is probably not an island, but only marine mud, pushed upwards from the seabed more recently. And vice versa: if I find that terrestrial bacteria dominate, you were swimming from the world’s northernmost true island.”

Others may look for other proof. In order to determine whether a new feature is indeed a true island, hydrologists, for example, will typically ask whether it is dry at high tide. Unfortunately, we don’t know whether this was the case for the island we landed on, but since the tidal differences are not very significant in this part of Greenland, it is certainly likely this is the case.

A name for the new island?

The formal naming of the new island or islet, should it ever become relevant, will be a matter for the Greenlandic Council for Place Names, established by law in 2017. The days when passing expeditions could name mountains, fjords or islands in Greenland as they pleased are gone forever, although private citizens, including foreigners, are welcome to make suggestions. The council’s standard practice is to name new features in the Greenlandic language and according to local linguistic traditions, and not to use the names of living people, except those of the Danish royal family.

Meanwhile, more islands are likely to be sighted as the changing climate rapidly alters the face of Greenland. At Carlsberg Fjord, in northeastern Greenland, which we flew over on our way north, an outcropping at the mouth of the fjord recently turned out to be an island when the ice that had previously connected it to the coastline melted.

Further out at sea lies Tuppiap Qeqertaa (or Tobias’ Island), which might have been created quite recently by icebergs pushing up gravel and sediments from the seabed. A Danish expedition first raised flags here in 2001. Soon after, the island was used in negotiations with Norway to determine ownership of the seabed between Greenland and the islands of Svalbard, whose status as a part of Norway is the same as Greenland’s status within the Kingdom of Denmark. The outcome was that Greenland’s territory grew by more than 900 square kilometers of seabed. Tuppiap Qeqertaa now appears on its own Greenlandic stamp.

We probably shouldn’t expect the new islet to receive a comparable honor, but never mind: for the time being it, by all accounts, is the northernmost feature of its kind on Earth.

The Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021 traveled in Greenland from July 18-30. It was initiated and financed by Swiss industrialist Christiane Leister. Its primary purpose was to conduct research into climate change in the Arctic. On July 27, a team of five landed on the new island north of Greenland: head of expedition Christiane Leister, scientific coordinator Morten Rasch, artist Julian Charrière, expedition leader Henrik Lassen, Air Greenland helicopter pilot Søren Thor Jørgensen and Martin Breum, a Copenhagen-based journalist and author.


This text, which has been slighted edited to reflect what we now know of the size of the island, was first published on on August 27th 2021. 


How we discovered the northernmost island on Earth

september 2, 2021 • Af

In July 2021 I participated on the scientific, climate-oriented Swiss-Danish Leister Expedition Around North Greenland 2021. Then, on July 27 five of us incidentally discovered what turned out to be the northernmost island on Earth. We landed in a helicopter in perfect weather a few kilometers north of the very uppermost tip of Greenland.  

Our expedition leader Henrik Lassen, a former Siriuspartrol member, collects samples from the new island. In the background Greenland’s coastline a mountainranges. (Photo: Christiane Leister)

Here is coverage from CBC in Canada, including a radio-interview:

Some of us took a short ceremonial swim to celebrate the special occassion – the air temperature was well beyound zero, the sun was up and shining.   (Photo: Morten Rasch).

Our discovery eventually created a significant amount of media attention. Reuters, the BBC, Associated press and others from around the world published their own versions of the story; using amongst others some of the video footage done by Swiss Artist Julian Charrière, who was also part of the team. 

Reuters published this piece, where some of Julian’s video is embedded:

I wrote about the discovery in Weekendavisen in Denmark, you can read my piece in English here on, in Sermitisiaq in Greenland and on in the Faroe Islands. What happended? Why is the island suddenly there? What happened to the other islands previously discovered in these waters? And what will be the name of the new island?

You can also read my piece from ArcticToday elsewhere on my website. 




Derfor er Norge og Grønland afgørende for USAs tænkning om sin egen sikkerhed

maj 21, 2021 • Af

Grønland og Arktis var varslet øverst på dagsordenen, allerede før USAs udenrigsminister Anthony J. Blinkens besøg i København midt i maj. 

USAs prioriteter i Arktis blev bekræftet den 5. maj af Arktis-koordinator i Blinkens ministerium, James P. DeHart, der talte online fra sit hjemmekontor på et seminar om Kina og Arktis: 

“Status quo holder ikke. Rusland og Kina udgør særlige udfordringer på grund af de voksende geopolitiske spændinger og konkurrence. Rusland i den mere hårde sikkerhedsmæssige forstand, Kina som en blødere, sikkerhedspolitisk udfordring,” sagde DeHart, der blev udnævnt under Trump, og som Blinken ikke har udskiftet. 

Blinkens kom på besøg på vej til et ministermøde i Arktisk Råd den 20. maj på Island. Her var USA syn på truslerne i Arktis velkendte.

Ruslands flybase Nagurskoye på Franz Josef Land har øget USAs bekymring

Moskva har genåbnet en række baser langs Ruslands arktiske kyst — herunder Nagurskoye-basen på øgruppen Franz Josef Land i Barentshavet. Herfra kan russiske jagerfly hurtigt nå Thule Air Base og ødelægge radaren, der skal advare USA mod nukleare missilangreb. Kina arbejder sig ind i Arktis med penge og tålmodighed, og USA føler sig truet — også med Biden og Blinken ved roret. 

 Trumps administration indledte en diplomatisk offensiv i Norge, Grønland, Island og på Færøerne, og amerikanske flådeenheder sejlede tæt på Ruslands arktiske baser. Joe Bidens har ikke ændret USAs politik på det område. Målet er i dag som i går at bremse Kinas økonomiske og politiske indtog i Arktis og at dæmme op for Ruslands genoprustning i regionen. 

USA i Norge

Alvoren mærkes i Norge netop nu. Den norske regering og USA underskrev 16. april en aftale, der giver USAs forsvar uhindret adgang til at bygge, bemande og forhåndsudruste militære anlæg til fly og flådefartøjer på fire norske militæranlæg — herunder på flådestationen i Ramsund og på Evenes Flystasjon. Begge ligger tæt ved Narvik i det norske Arktis. 

Evenes Flystasjon er Norges mest fremskudte flybase mod nord. Herfra kan  amerikanske jagere, bombefly og rekognosceringsfly fremover frit overflyve Nordnorge, Norskehavet og Barentshavet tæt på de russiske flådebaser på Kolahalvøen, hvor den russiske Nordflåde, inklusive en ny generation af ubåde og en væsentlig del af Ruslands atomvåben befinder sig. 

Det er atommissilerne på ubådene, USA særligt frygter. Ubådene kan på kort tid sejle fra Barentshavet ud i Nordatlanten og true USA, forklarer Tormod Heier, oberstløjtnant, professor og forskningschef på Forsvarets Høgskole i Oslo: 

“Det er herfra den største trussel mod USA kommer. Den korteste rute for missilerne til USA fører på grund af jordens krumning hen over Norge og/eller Grønland. For USA er Norge og Danmark med Grønland derfor to af de vigtigste lande i Europa. Vi er lytte- og varslingposter for amerikanerne. Grønland og de to støttepunkter i Evenes og Ramsund er vigtige for USAs eget forsvar,” siger Heier til Weekendavisen. 

Norge vil selv udstationere et større antal F35-jagerfly plus fem nyindkøbte P8 Poseidon-fly til ubåbdssporing på Evenes Flystasjon. Her vil de efter planen arbejde tæt sammen med de amerikanske enheder. 

I Ramsund får USA uhindret adgang til et militært havneanlæg med direkte adgang til Nordatlanten, servicefaciliteter og brændstof. I Tromsø lidt længere mod nord har de norske myndigheder udvidet havnen, så amerikanske ubåde nu kan skifte mandskab, tanke og blive serviceret. 

USA får nu uhindret adgang tl fire norske militæranlæg. Grafik: Business-Insider

Ved Rygge syd for Oslo og ved Sola nær Stavanger får USA adgang til militære lufthavne, hvorfra amerikanske fly ifølge Heier særligt vil fokusere på russisk trafik i Østersøen og Kattegat. 

Støttepunkterne i Norge skal sikre, at USAs militære operationer opnår maksimal uforudsigelighed:  

“De vil bruge norsk territorium til at agere langt mere overraskende og uforudsigeligt for at afskrække russerne,” siger Tormod Heier. “Det gør det vanskeligt for Norge både at være en god allieret i vest og en god nabo i øst. Norge bevæger sig mod mere afskrækkelse og mindre beroligelse af Rusland,” siger han. 

Moskva i oprør

Rusland mente i forvejen, at der var rigeligt at ærgre sig over i Norge. USA har længe drevet efterretningsvirksomhed fra den lille fiskerby Vadsø tæt på Norges grænse mod Rusland i nord. Fra 2016 til 2020 kunne Moskva ærgre sig over, at grupper på 700 amerikanske marinesoldater fast roterede i det centrale Norge. I februar i år kom 200 specialister fra Dyess Air Force Base i Texas til Norge for at bistå fire amerikanske bombefly af typen B-1. Flyene, der hører til de største i USAs arsenal, fløj missioner lige vest for Rusland. 

Norges koordinering med USA vokser, og Norge har også haft held til at få NATO til at engagere sig mere i Arktis. Rusland utilfredshed med den ny aftale er mærkbar:

“Det er endnu et bevis på, at Oslo gradvist opgiver sin politik med bevidst at fastholde en hvis tilbageholdenhed. Vi anser sådanne aktiviteter, især så tæt på Ruslands grænse, som Oslos bevidste og destruktive hang til forstærket aggression i den europæiske del af Arktis og til ødelæggelse af forholdet mellem Rusland og Norge,” lød det fra udenrigsministeriet i Moskva i sidste uge. 

På kant med grundloven

Den ny aftale placerer ifølge Tormod Heier også Norges konservative regering på kanten af den norske grundlov: “Spørgsmålet er, om de norske myndigheder stadig vil kunne opretholde national kontrol, hvis USA frit kan operere fra norsk territorium. Der opstår en klemme mellem hensynet til operativ effektivitet og hensynet til opretholdelsen af national suverænitet,” siger han. 

Kritikerne beskylder regeringen for at bringe freden i fare ved at undergrave den fast politik, der siden 1949 har forhindret fremmede tropper på norsk jord i fredstid: “Det er ikke sådan, at russerne frykter Norge med vores 5,3 millioner indbyggere. Det, de derimod frygter, er, at norske politikere skal lade amerikanerne benytte norsk territorium som opmarchområde for offensive operationer mod russiske interesser,” skriver historielektor Ivar Espås Vangen på organisationen “Nei til Atomvåpen”s hjemmeside. 

Regering i Oslo fastholder, at den ny aftale alene giver USA adgang til at bygge og drive militære installationer, ikke til fast udstationering af tropper. Aftalen skal godkendes af Stortinget i Oslo, før den kan træde i kraft. 

Grønland i samme båd

I København vil Anthony Blinken givetvist søge bekræftelse på, at USA også i Grønland og på Færøerne kan udvide uden problemer, og der er grund til at tro, at Mette Frederiksens regering vil anse det for en relativt enkel sag. 

Allerede i 2019, da Trump satte tingene på spidsen med sit købstilbud og ved at aflyse et planlagt statsbesøg, forsikrede Mette Frederiksen på både dansk og engelsk, at Danmark uanset købs-sagens bizarre forløb så frem til udvidet militært samarbejde med USA i Grønland og på Færøerne. 

Arktisk Kommando i Nuuk fik en ekstraordinær indsprøjtning på 1,5 milliarder kroner, og forsvaret indkøber nu droner for 750 millioner til bedre overvågning af farvandene øst for Grønland og ny radar til farvandsovervågning ved Færøerne. USA kan desuden se frem til brug af havnefaciliteter på Færøerne. 

Nuuks indstilling til USAs endnu uspecificerede ønsker i Grønland er lidt mindre klar. En ny koalition, der overtog styringen i Grønland i april, har efterlyst ‘demilitarisering’ i Grønland, men man ser tilsyneladende ikke noget problem ved et stærkere amerikansk engagement: 

“USA har gjort det klart, at Grønland er vital for USAs egen sikkerhed, og vi ser generelt ikke noget problem i, at USA vil øge sin militære tilstedeværelse,” siger Pele Broberg, der er koalitionens udenrigsansvarlige, til Weekendavisen. Pele Broberg tilhører det løsrivelsesivrige parti Naleraq, der er juniorpartner i den ny koalition. Som tidligere beskrevet her i avisen ser han store muligheder i samarbejdet med USA. Ønsket om demilitarisering dækker snarere over modvilje mod nye danske tiltag, herunder en planlagt militær uddannelse for unge grønlændere. Grønlands unge kan gøre mere gavn på andre måder, mener Broberg. 

Ny kolonialisering?

Sara Olsvig, tidligere formand for partiet Inuit Ataqatigiit, der er det førende parti i den ny koalition, efterlyser en mere præcis grønlandsk politik på området: “Jeg ser en fare for en ny form for kolonialisering, fordi sikkerhedspolitikken bliver så fremherskende. Vi ved, at det bliver sværere for de små spillere, når sikkerhedspolitikken spidser til,” siger Olsvig, der skriver ph.d. om Grønlands forhold til USA. 


“Grønland bør have en politik, som kan overleve også når nye koalitioner kommer til. Man kommer længere, hvis man ved, hvad man selv vil,” siger hun til Weekendavisen.

Men er det ikke naivt at tro, at USA overhovedet vil lytte til, hvad grønlænderne ønsker sig? 

“Måske. Men de siger, at de ønsker et tæt samarbejde med Grønland, og historien viser, at det går nemmere, hvis de viser oprigtig vilje til samarbejde,” siger hun. 


Teksten optrådte første gang i en lidt anden version i Weekendavisen 12.5







Hvad mener danskerne egentlig om rigsfællesskabet?

maj 12, 2021 • Af

Glæden bredte sig på Christiansborg, da en ny meningsmåling om danskernes syn på rigsfællesskabet blev offentliggjort forleden. 

Det viste sig, at 37 procent af danskerne mener, at rigsfællesskabet skal bestå, men at det bør ændres, så Grønland og Færøerne får mere selvstyre. 27 pct. mener, at rigsfællesskabet skal fortsætte uændret. Ialt 64 pct. af de adspurgte støtter altså en bevarelse af rigsfællesskabet. 

Både fra højre og venstre side af Folketinget lød der klapsalver: ”Det glæder mig langt ind i hjertet,” sagde tidl. udenrigsminister Martin Lidegaard fra de radikale til netmediet Altinget/Arktis. Lidegaard var særlig glad for de 37 procent, der ønsker at bevare men også ændre rigsfællesskabet, så Grønland og Færøerne får mere selvstyre. Det samme var SF’s grønlands- og færøordfører Karsten Hønge: “Det er efter min mening den rigtige vej at gå,” sagde han. 

Partiet Venstres grønlandsordfører Christoffer Aagaard Melson var fornøjet over det store flertals ønske om at bevare rigsfællesskabet: “Jeg er glad for at et flertal af befolkningen ligger samme sted, som vi selv gør,” sagde han til Altinget. 

Flertallet i Danmark mener altså ikke, at fællesskabet bør reformeres i så voldsomt omfang, at det går i opløsning. Målet for er primært at forandre for at bevare eller bare bevare. Færingerne og grønlænderne må gerne få “mere selvstyre”, men “mere selvstyre” er ikke nærmere defineret i undersøgelsen. Grønland har ifølge Selvstyreloven allerede rige muligheder for at hjemtage en stribe opgaver fra Danmark; måske er det blot denne eksisterende ordning, der nu kan spores en hvis opbakning til.

Der er ikke i Danmark nogen egentlig debat om de grønlandske eller færøske tanker om egentlig løsrivelse, og slet ingen debat om de hybrider eller alternativer til rigsfællesskabet, der diskuteres i Thorshavn og Nuuk. Der er derfor ingen grund til at tro, at 37 procent af danskerne pludselig har fattet interesse for tankerne om free association, langstrakt løsrivelse efter islandsk model, unionstanker eller andre af de konstruktioner, der tales om i Nordatlanten. 

Intet nyt under solen

Skal man være lidt polemisk, viser den nye undersøgelse kun en anelse nyt under solen. Lagtinget på Færøerne blev genoprettet i 1854 for at imødekomme den øgede færøske trang til selvbestemmelse. Forstanderskaberne i Grønland blev indført fra 1850’erne af beslægtede årsager; senere fulgte som bekendt landsråd, Hjemmestyre og Selvstyre. Ønsket i København har aldrig været at bane vej for selvstændige nordatlantiske stater, men at sikre, at alle rigets dele følger med tiden og fungerer godt sammen under dansk styring. 

Færøerne og Grønlands skal helst forblive en del af kongeriget, uanset at et flertal i Grønland og et svingende mindretal på Færøerne i en del årtier har talt om at udvikle suveræne stater — måske i fortsat forbindelse med Danmark, men uden for det eksisterende rigsfællesskab. Den vision har stadig kun få tilhængere i Danmark, — men dog nogle.

I den nye meningsmåling, som er foretaget af Epinion for DR og Altinget, siger  18 procent af de adspurgte, at “rigsfællesskabet bør ophøre, så Grønland og Færøerne bliver selvstændige nationer”. Det skal så sammenholdes med de 64 pct, der vil bevare rigsfællesskabet (16 procent svarede “ved ikke”, mens to procent ikke ønskede at svare). 

Sjældne tal

Tallene er værd at notere, især fordi det er så sjældent, at danskerne bliver spurgt.

Vi skal tilbage til 1999 for at finde en bred undersøgelse. Dengang foretog en række forskere anført af den nu afdøde samfundsforsker Lise Togeby fra Aarhus Universitet en magtudredning i Danmark, hvor rigsfællesskabet også sneg sig ind. 

Forskerne undersøgte, hvad danskerne mente om Grønlands og Færøernes ønske om mere selvstyre. Fra 1999 til 2002 blev 5.155 danskere fordelt på stadig nye grupper, der skulle tage stilling til følgende udsagn: ”Hvis Grønland og Færøerne ønsker selvstyre, kan de for min skyld få det med det samme.” Svarpersonerne blev ringet op: ”Er du enig, uenig eller delvist enig?”

Resultatet forelå i 2002, og det var helt entydigt. Hver fjerde måned i tre år blev en ny gruppe ringet op, og hver gang svarede 90 procent uden slinger, at de var enige i det kontante udsagn – enten helt eller delvist. 

Et overvældende flertal af danskerne mente altså i 1999, 2000, 2001 og 2002, at færingerne og grønlænderne fint kunne påtage sig selvstyre, når det passede dem. Forskerne læste også aviser og konstaterede, at der heller ikke i den politiske debat blev argumenteret imod øget selvstyre. Enigheden i Danmark var nærmest total.

Lise Togeby konkluderede: ”Tilslutningen til den formulerede påstand varierer kun mellem 90 pct. og 93 pct. Opinionen fremtræder således som meget stabil. Denne høje stabilitet afspejler formodentlig, at kun de færreste danskere interesserer sig for emnet. Der ser ikke ud til at være mange, der er bekymret over, at færinger og grønlændere vil være selvstændige. Synspunktet er, at det for så vidt er grønlænderes og færingers eget problem.”

Blandede bolcher

Lise Togeby sammenblandede på uheldig vis “selvstyre” og det at ville “være selvstændige,” men tallene var klare nok: 90 pct af de adspurgte svarede, at selvstyre måtte være øboernes “eget problem,” som Togeby lidt hånligt kaldte det. Desværre undersøgte forskerne ikke, hvad danskerne mente om egentlig løsrivelse eller statsdannelse, som flere kalder det i dag. Dog kan vi alligevel sammenligne med Epinions seneste undersøgelse. 

Dengang som nu overlader mange danskere på den ene side principielt gerne mere styring af de interne anliggender til borgerne på Færøerne og Grønland. Det er som nævnt det samme som at være enig i Selvstyrelovens indhold og i den beslægtede selvstyreordning på Færøerne. 

Det indebærer dog ikke, at de samme danskere nødvendigvis vil se positivt på en opløsning af rigsfællesskabet, selvom egentlig suverænitet eller statsdannelse i sidste ende skulle vise sig at være det store flertal af færingernes og/eller grønlændernes ønske. 

Tværtimod viser den seneste undersøgelse, at de fleste danskere stadig hælder til den gældende ordning, hvor den danske regering i yderste fald har magt, pligt og ret til at rette op på skuden, hvis noget skulle gå alvorligt galt. 

Det er ikke overraskende. Samme holdning gør sig gældende på Christiansborg på tværs af de politiske partier. Samarbejdet hen over Nordatlanten kan udmærket udvides på mange områder — f.eks. med den ny, IA-styrede koalition i Nuuk, men i Danmark vil det ske med udgangspunkt i ønsket om at bevare rigsfællesskabet. Det går både kongehuset, regeringen, forsvaret, alle de store partier og — det ved vi nu — et stort flertal af danskerne ind for. Rigsfællesskabet behøver ikke at være statisk. Tværtimod ved vi også nu, at der er folkelig forståelse for, at det må moderniseres løbende, men der er ingen appetit på at opløse det. 

1000 danskere over 18 blev spurgt. Tallene viser, at der ikke er stor forskel på, hvad kvinder og mænd i Danmark mener, eller hvad ældre og yngre danskere mener. Blandt de 27 pct., der mener, at rigsfællesskabet bør fortsætte uforandret, er der en lille overvægt af vælgere, som stemmer på borgerlige partier. Overordnet set er fordelingen af holdninger dog stort set uafhængig af køn, alder og politisk overbevisning. 


Først offentliggjort i Sermitsiaq 7.5 2021 – let redigeret. 



Grønlands nye landsstyre lover stabilitet men fødes med indre spændinger

april 19, 2021 • Af

Med tydelige adresse til de seneste års hyppige politiske sporskifte i Nuuk lover Múte B. Egede både stabilitet i regeringsførelsen, brede forlig med inddragelse af hele det politiske spekter, og ikke mindst langtidsholdbare forlig, der rækker udover den aktuelle valgperiode.

Múte B. Egede skal nu lede en koalition af IA, der læner mod venstre, og Naleraq, – et liberalt, nationalistisk parti. Foto: Martin Breum


Grønland har stærkt brug for det hele, men sprængfaren ligger latent i konstruktionen: Múte B. Egedes parti, Inuit Ataqatigiit (IA) er SF’s tidligere søsterparti, og Egede selv taler gerne om både bæredygtighed, kampen mod ulighed og behovet for sociale reformer til gavn for de svageste, men han har nu mønstret et flertal ved at indgå en koalitionsaftale med partiet Naleraq (Pejlemærket), der i kortform er liberalt-nationalistisk.

De to partier råder tilsammen over 16 af de 31 pladser i Inatsisartut. Det giver blot en enkelt stemmes overvægt, men koalitionen styrkes yderligere af to stemmer fra støttepartiet Atassut, Grønlands engang så indflydelsesrige, borgerlige parti.

God kemi
Mosaikken giver rigeligt grundstof til ideologisk tumult, men man skal huske realiteterne: IA og Naleraq sad i dele af den forrige valgperiode i koalitionsregering sammen og fandt hinanden på en række områder. I koalitionsaftalen er der enighed om at søge forbedringer for de udsatte børn, hjemløse og pensionister blandt andet med en skattereform og en fattigdomsgrænse. Endelig er der efter sigende fin kemi mellem flere af topfolkene.

Ikke mindst har IAs næstformand Aqqaluaq Egede, der nu placeres på den afgørende post som ansvarlig for fiskeri og fangst, længe dyrket et tæt kollegialt forhold til Hans Enoksen, formanden for Naleraq, der i hele sin politiske karriere har anset de grønlandske fiskeres og fangeres vilkår for topprioritet. Fortsætter de to’s parløb ind i fiskeriets nervecenter, vil det muligvis kunne sikre sammenholdet i koalitionen et godt stykke ad vejen.

Hans Enoksen, der altså nu er Múte B. Egedes hovedpartner, er selv tidligere landsstyreformand, en politisk gesvindt veteran, der nu bliver formand for Inatsisartut. I Grønland er det ikke blot er en ærefuld men også en magtfuld post. Enoksen har ved at indgå i koalitionen altså fået både en ven i spidsen for fiskeripolitikken og indflydelse på selve den politiske procedure plus endnu en trumf: Enoksens partifælle Pele Broberg bliver ansvarlig for Grønlands stadig vigtigere relationer til udlandet; ham vender vi tilbage til – her er hele rigets interesser i spil.

Lange forlig
Stemningen var høj, da den ny 17-sider lange koalitionsaftale blev underskrevet fredag foran et større publikum i Nuuk. Den tv-transmitterede ceremoni bød udover politik også på trommedans og højtidelig tænding af en spæklampe af fedtsten; en hyldest til kulturarven og historien.

Fornyelsen er markant: Múte B. Egede er den yngste landsstyreformand i Grønlands historie, og det er kun anden gang siden hjemmestyrets indførelse i 1979, at et landsstyre ikke skal ledes af Siumut, Socialdemokratiets søsterparti.

IA havde magten første gang fra 2009-2013; Selvstyrets første år blev anført af landsstyreformand Kuupik Kleist, der i dag har forladt den politiske scene. Múte B. Egede var ikke med dengang, men der er folk i hans nye landsstyre, der vil huske, at IA’s regeringsførelse dengang mere blev kendt for analytisk skarphed end handlekraft. Det var muligvis en uretfærdig dom, men genvalg blev det ikke til, og Múte B. Egede virker nu opsat på at se længere end blot til næste valg.

Hans løfte om bredde i forligene skal ses i den sammenhæng: Det slagne Siumut kæmper med gedigne, interne problemer, herunder dyb uenighed mellem den nuværende og den tidligere formand, men partiet fik trods de indvortes problemer et relativt godt valg med flere stemmer og ét mandat mere end ved valget i 2018. Lykkes det at samle Siumut igen, står den nye koalition overfor en potentielt ganske stærk opposition; Múte B. Egede gør givetvis klogt i at samle, ikke at sprede.

Múte B. Egede og det ny landsstyres nye finansansvarlige, Asii Chemnitz Narup (tv) og Naaja Nathanielsen, ny Naalakkersuisoq for boliger, infrastruktur, råstoffer og ligestilling. Foto: Martin Breum

Nej til Kvanefjeldet

I verdenspressen har det allerede givet genlyd, at den ny koalition vil stoppe mineprojektet på Kvanefjeldet ved byen Narsaq i Sydgrønland. Især IA er ubøjelig modstander af projektet, fordi den planlagte udvinding af sjældne jordarter, der er essentielle for både den grønne omstilling og militærindustrien, også vil bringe uran til overfladen.

Det er betegnende for den nye koalitions virketrang, at partnere allerede under valgkampen sagde kategorisk nej til projektet, uanset at den formelle offentlige høringsproces først slutter til juni. Kyndige iagttagere i Nuuk venter nu på mineselskabet Greenland Minerals reaktion; selskabet har angiveligt investeret mere end 100 millioner dollars i prøveboringer og anden forberedelse.

Múte B. Egede gentog fredag sin skarpe afvisning af projektet, og Naleraq er enig. Minen på Kvanefjeldet, hvis hovedaktionær i øvrigt er kinesisk, bliver ikke til noget i denne omgang; IA prioriterer miljøet højere end de potentielle økonomiske gevinster, og Naleraq vil hellere vente med så store mineprojekter til efter Grønlands løsrivelse fra Danmark.

Koalitionen anser ifølge den nye koalitionsaftale fortsat minedrift som en potentielt vigtig indtægtskilde i Grønland, men uranudvinding vil ikke blive tolereret; en politik, der givetvis også vil ramme det statsejede franske atomselskab Orano, som i februar vandt to licenser til uranefterforskning et andet sted i Sydgrønland.

Koalitionens styrke vil blive tryktestet i de forestående forhandlinger om en ny fiskerilov. Loven har været på vej i flere år; behovet for indgreb er bredt anerkendt, men der er på ingen måde enighed om, hvordan de skal designes.

Fiskeriet skaffer over 90 procent af Grønlands eksportindtægter, men fiskebestandene er ifølge biologerne kritisk truet af overfiskeri. Så sent som i sidste uge udkom endnu en rapport om krisen: Hellefisken i Disko-området, der er en af Grønlands vigtigste forekomster, er grumt overfisket og truet af kollaps.

En fiskerikommission med deltagelse af både de store fiskerikoncerner og de små, men talrige og indflydelsesrige jollefiskere skal aflevere sine anbefalinger inden sommerferien. Kommissionens formandsskab har på forhånd råbt højt om overfiskeriet, men det fremgår af den nye koalitionsaftale, at Múte B. Egedes landsstyre ikke nødvendigvis vil føle sig forpligtet af kommissionens anbefalinger – på trods af Múte B. Egedes løfter om, at koalitionen vil fokusere på bæredygtighed.

Tværtimod understreger aftalen, at lovgivning må ske ved “bredt samarbejde med fiskeriets parter”, og fiskernes viden om fiskebestandenes tilstand vil blive vægtet side om side med biologernes også fremover. I Grønland har den opskrift hidtil betydet et fiskeri, der kun i begrænset omfang afspejler biologernes råd.

Set fra Christiansborg vil udpegelsen af den løsrivelsesivrige Pele Broberg fra Naleraq som det nye landsstyres udenrigsansvarlige være særligt bemærkelsesværdig; det er den tredje trumf, koalitionsdannelsen placerer i den garvede Hans Enoksens hånd.

Pele Broberg forklarede mig for nylig, at forhandlingerne med Danmark om Grønlands løsrivelse – eller statsdannelse, som han og stadig flere i Grønland kalder det – efter hans mening bør indledes snart. Han mener, at forberedelserne i Grønland vil kunne klares på et år eller mindre. Han vil gerne binde det uafhængige, fremtidige Grønland tæt til Danmark, men ikke for enhver pris. Efter Donald Trumps købstilbud anser han en tættere alliance med USA for en reel mulighed, hvis forhandlingerne med Danmark ikke fører til acceptable resultater.Her skal det understreges, at der ikke står ét ord om alt det i den nye koalitionsaftale. I modsætning til tidligere koalitionsaftaler i Grønland taler den nye hverken om løsrivelse, selvstændighed eller statsdannelse, og USA er ikke nævnt.

Det er muligvis udtryk for, at Múte B. Egedes partnere fra Naleraq har måtte dæmpet deres løsrivelsestanker under forhandlingerne. Omvendt indeholder koalitionsaftalen rigelig plads til fortolkning i den hverdag, der nu melder sig; aftalen indeholder bemærkelsesværdigt kun få detaljer om forholdet til Danmark.

“Selvstyreloven er den grundlæggende lov for vores samfund,” hedder det forsigtigt. Aftalen forudser hjemtagelse af stadig flere af de opgaver, som Danmark fortsat varetager for Grønland, men det er helt i tråd med selvstyreaftalen mellem Danmark og Grønland, og kun fødevareområdet nævnes specifikt.

Múte B. Egede og resten af IA, herunder folketingsmedlem Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, har i de seneste år markeret sig som stadig mere pragmatiske operatører i rigsfællesskabet uden synlig interesse for løsrivelse eller statsdannelse. Til gengæld er Pele Brobergs og Naleraqs varme ønske om et hurtigere tempo mod frigørelsen velkendt i Grønland, og det er rimeligt at antage, at denne kontrast vil præge både koalitionen og det dansk-grønlandske samarbejde.

Danmark og USA
Som politisk leder af landsstyrets Departement for Udenrigsanliggender, Handel, Klima og Erhverv får Pele Broberg det daglige ansvar for væsentlige dele af de løbende forretninger med Mette Frederiksens regering, især Trine Bramsens forsvarsministerium og Jeppe Kofods udenrigsministerium, men også Dan Jørgensens klimaministerium.

Pele Broberg vil eksempelvis straks overtage Grønlands forhandlinger med Jeppe Kofod om kongerigets arktiske strategi, der har vredet sig på tegnebordet i en del måneder. Han vil også straks indgå i de komplekse forhandlinger med USA om forsvarets indretning i Grønland, og han vil lede udvekslingerne med Washington om økonomisk samarbejde og om USA’s bidrag til den civile udvikling i Grønland; her forhandler Nuuk og Washington indbyrdes udenom København.

Han vil lede Grønlands fortsatte opbygning af relationer til Kina, hvor en diplomatisk repræsentation skal oprettes, og han vil deltage i de løbende forhandlinger med EU, der yder væsentlig støtte til Grønland. I koalitionsaftalen står der, at IA og Naleraq ønsker at sætte bremser på EU-fiskeriet i Grønland til gavn for Grønlands egne fiskere.

Også på denne måde lover den ny koalition ny dynamik – både internt og eksternt.

IA’s og Naleraqs alliance spejles i øvrigt af udviklingen i Grønlands største kommune Sermersooq, hvortil Nuuk og dermed en tredjedel af Grønlands indbyggere hører. Her blev der i fredags også indgået koalitionsaftale i kommunalbestyrelsen mellem IA og Naleraq – plus partiet Demokraterne. Samtidig er Nuuks tidligere borgmester, IAs Asii Chemnitz Narup blevet medlem af Múte B. Egedes landsstyre; hun bliver ansvarlig for Grønlands finanser og indenrigsanliggender. Det er muligvis signal om, at den ny ledelse for alvor vil kaste sig over de alvorlige spændinger mellem hovedstaden og resten af Grønland.


Teksten her optrådte først på Altinget /Arktis 19.4 2021





Greenland’s snap election exposes global mineral demand

februar 26, 2021 • Af

A parliamentary election unexpectedly called for in Greenland for 6 April now threatens to impact the access of European industries to minerals that are vital for Europe’s green transition.

Det 600 meter høje brede Kvanefjeld ligger blot seks-syv kilometer fra byen Narsaq i Sydgrønland. Greenland Minerals søger tilladelse til at anlægge en mine på det brede plateau på fjeldets top. Foto: Martin Breum

As the electoral campaign in Greenland picks up speed, still more Greenlandic politicians seem to waver in their support for a proposed mining project in southern Greenland, which holds one of the world’s largest deposits of rare earth minerals.

These minerals are crucial for green technologies like wind turbines, solar panels and electrical cars.

Greenland Minerals Ltd, an Australian-owned company which hopes to extract rare earths from the Kuannersuit mountain in southern Greenland, has joined the European Raw Materials Alliance, a recent initiative by the EU commission.

The future of the mine, however, seems increasingly challenged as more politicians, fearful of losing popular support before the elections, appear sensitive to protests by local environmental groups.

Shifting signals about the mine from Siumut, Greenland’s governing party, have caused particular uncertainty. The party had a new chairman in December.

“The party’s new leadership tried to get the public hearings about the mine postponed. It looks to me as if Siumut is more divided on this issue than ever,” Jensine Berthelsen, political editor of Sermitsiaq, Greenland’s main newspaper, told EUobserver.

Greenland’s main opposition party, Inuit Ataqatigiit, is vehemently opposed to the mine and scored well in the latest opinion poll.

After the elections, a new government in Nuuk will consider complaints collected during the hearings and decide whether or not to grant Greenland Minerals a licence to mine.

Uranium controversy

The proposed mining site is only a few kilometres from Narsaq, a town of 1,350 people in southern Greenland. The project has divided Greenland into two bitterly opposed camps for more than 10 years.

Critics fear large scale environmental devastation, in particular since the Kuannersuit mountain also contains substantial deposits of uranium that will surface with the rare earths.

The head of the Nuuk office of the World Wildlife Fund, Kaare Winther Hansen expressed his concerns in December. “First of all, Greenland Minerals will not ship its chemical waste out of Greenland. They want to dump it in a lake behind an artificial dam, and there are doubts about these dams: Will they last or will they not? We are not impressed,” he said.

“Secondly, they will not establish an underground mine, but an open pit mine on a location with thorium, uranium and fluoride compounds, which are potentially dangerous and likely to spread in the surrounding area. The citizens of Narsaq live only five kilometres from the nearest part of the mine. They use surface water for drinking, so you will also have a dust-problem,” he told this reporter.

On 10 February, Greenland’s environmental groups were supported by more than 100 environmental groups from around the world. They appealed to the governments in Nuuk and Copenhagen and to the EU, asking for a halt to the Kuanersuit project and to all other large-scale mining in Greenland.

“Protecting Greenland and the Arctic is not only a local, national and regional, but also a global issue”, said Diego Francesco Marin from the European Environmental Bureau, a private network of 160 civil society organisations.

“The European Parliament has already expressed support for the idea of an Arctic sanctuary and people all over the world realise that the Arctic environment is particularly vulnerable to pollution, because it recovers very slowly,” Marin said.

A halt to large-scale mining in Greenland would also hurt another potential rare earth mine situated at the mountain plateau known as Kringlerne some 25km from Kuannersuit.

The project at Kringlerne holds no uranium and is also in the process of securing official permits for its mining operation.

The production of rare earth minerals is technologically demanding and has been known to cause severe environmental challenges, in particular in China.

It includes chemical extractions of the sought after minerals and subsequent depositing of millions of tons of crushed and partly contaminated ore.

Jobs and growth

Supporters of the mine at Kuannersuit tend to focus on the 700-800 permanent jobs the mine would provide in a region which has long smarted from unemployment and depopulation. Also, supporters talk of potential economic benefits to Greenland and its 57.000 people.

According to Greenland Minerals’ estimates, Greenland’s treasury is likely to receive more than $200m per year in taxes and other income throughout the 37 years of projected mining. This would have substantial impact on Greenland’s future economic challenges.

“We will simply close the holes in Greenland’s economy,” Jørn Skov, Greenland Mining’s executive managing director said in December.

He said that the Kuannersuit mountain is rich especially in four key rare earth minerals — neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium.

The deposits were certified by Australia’s Joint Ore Reserves Committee, and the company claims it can satisfy one-fifth of the world’s demand for these four minerals: “Greenland can deliver 15-20 percent of what is needed to drive the green transition,” Skov said.

New EU campaign

Europe’s dire need for rare earths like those in Greenland was highlighted last September, when the EU Commission launched a large-scale campaign to secure Europe’s future supplies of rare earths and other strategic minerals.

The commission presented an Action Plan on Critical Raw Materials, a 2020 List of Critical Raw Materials and a foresight study.

The authors underscored that China presently controls more than 90 percent of global production of rare earth minerals.

The new initiative was launched by Thierry Breton, commissioner for the internal market: “A number of raw materials are essential for Europe to lead the green and digital transition and remain the world’s first industrial continent. We cannot afford to rely entirely on third countries – for some rare earths even on just one country,” he said.

Greenland is not part of the EU, but linked to the union as a semi-autonomous part of the Danish kingdom and as an OCT — Overseas Countries and Territories to the EU.

The EU has long provided Greenland with economic support for education and other sectors through the EU-Greenland Partnership Agreement and the EU Commission negotiates fishing rights for European fishing fleets in Greenland’s waters.

Fear of Chinese control

Greenland’s minerals and the need to prevent Chinese control is high on the agenda.

In 2012, Antonio Tajani, then vice president of the commission, travelled to Nuuk to secure that Greenland would continue to sell its minerals on the free market.

A letter of intent was signed by both parties, but this has not prevented Chinese interest.

In 2016, Chinese mining conglomerate Shenge bought 12.5 percent of Greenland Minerals’ shares.

Shenge is still the company’s largest shareholder, now with nine percent of the shares, and Greenland Minerals says it relies on Shenge to provide the technology needed for the mine at Kuannersuit, if political permission to extract the minerals is secured.

In 2018, Greenland Minerals signed a non-binding agreement with Shenge, that Shenge might eventually buy the total output of rare earths from Kuannersuit, a total of some 32,000 tonnes of ore.

By December last year, however, this had changed.

Greenland Mining now said it wanted to export all potential outputs of rare earths from Kuannersuit to Europe. Jørn Skov, the executive managing director, spoke highly of the new EU campaign, in particular the European Raw Materials Alliance, which aims to connect European industries with suppliers of strategic minerals.

Trump saw it

In the US, Greenland’s rare earths are also in sharp focus.

In July 2019 then US president Donald Trump issued a presidential memoranda asking the US secretary of defense to do more to secure future supplies of rare earths for the US arms industry.

The president called for urgent “purchases” and “purchase commitments” abroad.

Three weeks later, speaking of strategic interest and Greenland’s minerals, the president suggested that the US might buy Greenland, the world’s largest island, from Denmark.

The suggestion was firmly rejected by Greenland and Denmark, but the US has continued to increase its cooperation with Greenland particularly in the mining sector.

In June 2020, the news portal DefenceNews reported that the Pentagon had asked the US congress to allow the US government to spend up to $1.75bn on rare earth minerals that are used for the production of – among other military items – Javelin missiles and F-35 fighter jets.


This article is a slightly edited version of the article first published by the on 25 February 2021



Hvad svarer kongeriget, hvis Rusland kræver mere af havbunden nord for Grønland?

februar 5, 2021 • Af

Rusland overvejer at udvide sit krav til den arktiske havbund helt til Grønlands 200-sømilegrænse.

To russiske skibe gennemførte mellem august og oktober 2020 et togt i polarisen med atomdreven isbryder og et forskningsskib, der indsamlede data om havbunden bare 60 sømil nord for Grønlands eksklusive økonomiske zone. Rusland vil desuden sandsynligvis indbyde Danmark til forhandling snart.

Sådan lyder essensen. Rusland har selv offentliggjort en række detaljer om togtet i 2020. Arktisk Kommando i Nuuk var klar over skibenes tilstedeværelse allerede, da togtet fandt sted.

Besætningen fra Akademik Fedorov fotograferet ved hjemkomst til Skt. Petersborg. Foto: Det russiske forsvarsministerium

Yderligere detaljer fremgår af informationer, jeg har skrevet om i Weekendavisen i denne uge og af den engelske version her på hjemmesiden. Den seneste risikovurdering fra Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste (FE) tyder desuden på, at en del i kongeriget har kendt til sagen i nogen tid.

Det russiske togt har umiddelbar politisk betydning, og effekten øges selvsagt, hvis Rusland rent faktisk udvider sit eksisterende krav til havbunden og dermed til alt, hvad dybet måtte gemme af olie, gas og mineraler.

Udvidelse på vej

Vi ved endnu ikke, om udvidelsen af kravet kommer. De indsamlede data kan være utilstrækkelige, og der kan opstå politiske forhindringer.

Men meget tyder på, at en udvidelse er på vej. Det kan booste overlappet mellem Ruslands krav i Arktis og det dansk-grønlandske med 200.000 kvadratkilometer, så det samlede overlap lander på 800.000 kvadratkilometer.

Og ifølge FE vil Rusland sandsynligvis snart opfordre regeringen til direkte forhandlinger. FE mener, at Rusland sandsynligvis vil foreslå forhandlinger, så snart FN’s Sokkelkommission har vurderet Ruslands data (med eller uden udvidelse), og det kan ifølge de seneste forlydender fra kommissionen ske snart – formentlig allerede i år (dog med coronaforbehold).

Tre komponenter trænger sig på: Politisk tolkning af det seneste togt, behovet for enighed i rigsfællesskabet og spørgsmålet om den sikkerhedspolitiske effekt.

Politisk værdi
Med et udvidet krav i Arktis, eller alene med forsøget, signalerer Vladimir Putins regering styrke og handlekraft over for sit russiske vælgerhav.

Ruslands ledere har siden zartiden brugt erobringen af Arktis til at konsolideres deres egen legitimitet, og Vladimir Putin bruger grebet effektivt.

Faldskærmsjægere har trænet ved Nordpolen og det russiske Arktis udvikles i rekordfart. Ruslands økonomi er dybt afhængig af råstofferne fra nord, så folkesjælens fodring og landets velfærd hænger sammen i denne sag.

En del husker måske, da to russiske miniubåde i 2007 dykkede 4.300 meter ned til bunden ved Nordpolen og plantede det russiske flag.

De øvrige arktiske stater – inklusive Konservatives udenrigsminister, Per Stig Møller – frygtede, at Rusland med dykket gjorde sig klar til at bryde med international lov i Arktis, og at krigsskibe snart ville følge efter.

Senere forskning viser dog, at dykkets russiske ledelse sandsynligvis var mere optaget af indenrigs symboleffekt. Udenrigsminister Sergei Lavrov beroligede: Det amerikanske flag på månen førte jo heller ikke til krav om amerikansk ejerskab, og Rusland har siden slavisk fulgt FN’s spilleregler.

Usvækket fokus på erobring
Ruslands seneste togt, der også nåede ind i USA’s interessesfære nord for Alaska, understreger, at Ruslands fokus på arktisk erobring er usvækket, og at enhver forhandling med Danmark, Grønland og andre konkurrenter vil blive grebet tilsvarende håndfast an.

Det er væsentligt, ikke mindst fordi forhandlinger som nævnt kan blive relevante relativt snart. Coronaen vil forsinke processen i FN’s Sokkelkommission, men vi taler altså ikke længere nødvendigvis kun om forhandlinger i en fjern fremtid.

Danmark og Grønland vil som mindstemål skulle afklare, om tiden er inde til armlægningen med Rusland – et spørgsmål, der også involverer Canada.

Da Kristian Jensen (V) endnu var udenrigsminister, afviste Danmark et russisk tilbud om forhandlinger, angiveligt fordi Canadas krav ikke var klar, men den afvisning kan ikke længere bruges. Canada indleverede sit krav i 2019.

Er Danmark og Grønland enige?
Svar til Rusland vil kræve enighed internt i rigsfællesskabet, og her er der ikke nødvendigvis sammenfaldende interesser.

Grønland vil givetvis være optaget af de potentielle fund af olie, gas og mineraler. Selvstyreloven foreskriver, at alle indkomster fra råstoffer i Grønland principielt tilhører grønlænderne, uanset om de gemmer sig under bunden af Det Arktiske Ocean.

Ingen har endnu fundet skyggen af værdier så langt inde i polarisen, men ingen ved heller, hvad man finder i fremtiden. Regeringen kan blive klemt mellem sit udtalte ønske om at gøre rigsfællesskabet attraktivt for Grønland, så det ikke går i opløsning, og behovet for ikke at skabe konflikt med Rusland.

Det er slemt nok i Ruslands øjne, at Danmark på den militære front samarbejder umådeligt tæt med USA om at booste det amerikanske militære aftryk i Arktis i en tid, hvor Washington oftere tordner mod russisk oprustning og stadig oftere fører flådeskibe, fly og tropper tæt på Ruslands arktiske sfære.

Varmere forhold
Modsætningerne i rigsfællesskabet blev blotlagt i 2014, da Danmark og Grønland skulle enes om kongerigets krav til FN’s Sokkelkommission. Aleqa Hammond, der var formand for Naalakkersuisut, oplevede danskerne som uambitiøse:

“Vi havde som udgangspunkt to vidt forskellige holdninger til den fremtidige betydning af soklen. Det følte vi i hvert fald,” fortalte hun mig senere.

Ifølge Hammond var det grønlandsk pres, der gjorde, at kongerigets krav blev udvidet, så langt FN’s Havretskonvention overhovedet tillod, nemlig helt til Ruslands 200-sømilegrænse. Russerne er stadig, som Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste skriver, “sandsynligvis meget utilfredse”.

I dag er forholdet mellem Nuuk og København varmere, men fokus i Nuuk er næppe ændret, og viljen til selvstændig udenrigspolitisk ageren er kun tiltaget. Aleqa Hammond er desuden blevet formand for Inatsisartuts, det grønlandske parlaments Sikkerheds- og Udenrigspolitiske Udvalg.

Et udvidet russisk krav vil måske rejse spørgsmålet, om yderligere dansk-grønlandsk dataindsamling i Det Arktiske Ocean vil gavne forhandlingspositionen. Nye ekspeditioner vil i givet fald koste et pænt antal millioner blandt andet til leje af en isbryder, og der ingen tradition for, at Grønland bidrager til udgifterne.

Freden holder
Sikkerhedspolitisk er der ifølge kendere, herunder lektor Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen fra Center for Arktiske Sikkerhedsstudier ved Forsvarsakademiet, ingen grund til bekymring:

“Sikkerhedspolitisk betyder det ikke meget. Det er internationalt farvand, så russerne kan sejle og flyve deroppe så meget, de har lyst. Det afgørende for Danmark er, om Rusland holder sig til gældende regler og konventioner, og der er intet, der tyder på regelbrud her,” sagde han, da jeg spurgte.

Martin Lidegaard (R), der var udenrigsminister, da det dansk-grønlandske krav blev formuleret, er ganske enig; det samme er den canadiske ekspert, professor Michael Byers fra University of British Columbia.

Konstruktiv tilgang
Forsvarets Efterretningstjeneste ser en mindre, potentiel risiko for russisk disruption, men kun hvis afgørelserne fra FN’s Sokkelkommission går Rusland voldsomt imod. Som tjenesten skrev i december:

“Rusland har indtil videre udvist en konstruktiv tilgang til sokkelspørgsmålet. Det er sandsynligt, at Rusland også fremover ønsker at fremstå som en konstruktiv forhandlingspartner, som følger FN-processen. Rusland vurderer sandsynligvis, at denne tilgang foreløbigt bedst tjener Ruslands interesser. Det er dog muligt, at Rusland senere vil vælge en anden tilgang, hvis FN-processen ikke fører til et acceptabelt resultat for Rusland”.

Her bør for fuldstændighedens skyld måske tilføjes et enkelt forhold, som FE ikke nævner. Den, der vinder retten til ressourcerne på havbunden, opnår ifølge FN’s Havretskonvention også en ikke særlig klart defineret ret til at forhindre andre i at udnytte ressourcerne i det samme område.

Rusland vil muligvis tolke juraen sådan, at der med retten til havbunden også følger ret til at inspicere eller på anden vis kontrollere andre nationers fartøjer, og så er det ikke længere uproblematisk.

True den frie sejlads
Der er stadig masser af is nord for Grønland, men klimakrisen betyder som bekendt, at isen forsvinder, så det er ikke den rene science fiction.

Spørgsmålet om “freedom of navigation” står allerede højt på dagsordenen i Arktis. USA, Danmark og andre beskylder Rusland for at true den frie sejlads nord for Rusland, og kontroversielle militære manøvrer gennemføres for at understrege pointen.

Især USA vil derfor muligvis også bekymre sig, hvis Rusland nu får udsigt til rettigheder nord for Grønland, der kan bruges som undskyldning for at bringe kontrollerende russiske isbrydere eller andet isenkram i mere regulær rutefart tæt på Thulebasen og det amerikanske fastland.

Denne nyhedsanalyse, der her optræder en anelse redigeret, blev offentliggjort på Altinget/Arktis 3. februar 2021



Russia considers extended claim to the Arctic seabed

februar 5, 2021 • Af

Despite the climate crisis, the ice in this region can still be several years old, thick as a man is tall and tougher than oak.

The icebreaker systematically clears open tracks in the ice in honor of the vessel trailing it, the “Akademik Fedorov”. The lesser, but ice-enforced vessel methodically sucks up data about the seabed with an advanced multibeam echosounder embedded in its hull.

Onboard the ship Russian technicians, if they do what they have done before, translate the data into colourful computer-visuals of the seabed’s majestic contours.

Focus is on the Lomonosov Ridge, the impressive subsea mountain range that runs from Russia across the North Pole and onwards towards Greenland and Canada. The ridge pushes 3700 meter tall peaks upwards from the seabed which is otherwise flat as a pancake, and the nature of the connection between the ridge and the landmasses at either end will determine who has the rights to what the seabed may hide of oil, gas and minerals.

Consistent rumors about the goal of this ambitious Russian mission can now be verified: The two vessels were harvesting data about the seabed, because Russia is contemplating a revised, enlarged submission to the UN’s Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf (CLCS).

A such enlarged submission could win Russia the rights to the seabed from close to the North Pole and down all the way to the maritime borders of Canada and Greenland 200 nautical miles from shore.

According to information given to me recently, an enlarged Russian submission to the CLCS could be underway in a matter of a few months, but we don’t know whether it will ever happen.

Most probably, no-one outside Russia has yet seen the new data; it might be insufficient to support an enlargement, and political barriers on the diplomatic front could also make Russia fold. But the analysis is reportedly in progress; Russia has received encouraging rumblings from the CLCS on its existing submission, and new details about the latest mission that is published in this article for the first time corroborate expectations of an enlargement.

Zig-zag in ice

The “50 Let Pobedy” and the “Akademic Fedorov” were operating in the characteristic zig-zag pattern also known from three Danish-Greenlandic icebreaker missions in the same waters between 2007 and 2012 (This reporter travelled on one of them.)

The two Russian vessels toiled forth and back across the Lomonosov Ridge as close as 60 nautical miles from Greenland’s exclusive economic zone. They operated far from the seabed further north that was covered by Russia’s submission to the CLCS in 2015.

The Russian Embassy in Copenhagen has not yet come back on a request for more information about the purpose of the mission, but in November, as “Akademik Fedorov” returned to quay in Saint Petersburg, the Russian Ministry of Defence published a brief news item and a few pictures of the crew.

Crew members from Akademik Fedorov on return from the Arctic Ocean. Photo: The Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation

It was not clear precisely where “Akademik Fedorov” had been, or what the new data was intended for, but we learned that the vessel had returned from a three month mission somewhere along the Lomonosov Ridge and further west over the Chukchi Plateau north of Alaska, where the US has hitherto been alone in its quest for the seabed.

Flemming Larsen, director of the Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland, GEUS, in Copenhagen, commented on the Russian news item last week:

“It appears that they have done bathymetry, in other words mapping of the topography across the Lomonosov Ridge. Also, they have taken samples of the sediments. It is all about illustrating the character of the ridge: Does it belong to Greenland or does it belong to Russia? But we have not yet heard what came out of it,” he said.

Denmark’s Arctic Command in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital, was aware of the two Russian vessels already when they operated north of Greenland. In December, Denmark’s Defence Intelligence Service foretold in its annual risk-analysis that Rusland would “most likely“ enlarge its submission to the CLCS all the way to Greenland’s exclusive economic zone.

Russia might simply have told the other Arctic coastal states about its considerations. Canada, the Danish Kingdom, Norway, Russia and the US have long acknowledged the potential for disruptive disagreements over the still non-existent borders on the seabed and the diplomats and experts meet regularly in order to prevent any slidings towards collision and tension.

Norway has no direct interest involved, but the Norwegian embassy in Copenhagen confirmed that Norway is aware of the Russian mission:

“Norway is aware that Russia has conducted a mission with Akademik Fedorov in the Arctic Ocean, but the mission in 2020 does not cover areas that are part of the Norwegian continental shelf. Therefore, there is no need for prior contact between Norway and Russia about the details of the mission. Generally, the embassy stresses that the activities in the Arctic Ocean are characterized by good communication among the five coastal states. Norway highly appreciates this”.

Closer neighbours

The underlying conflicts of interest are substantial. An enlarged Russian submission could — simply speaking — bring Russia closer to Canada and Greenland than most people would have dreamt off only a few years back.

In the most far reaching scenario, where Russia manages to realize the full potential of an enlarged submission to the CLCS, Russia’s rights to the seabed would begin right outside Canada’s and Greenland’s exclusive economic zones 200 nautical miles from shore.

Russia would have exclusive rights to all resources on the seabed, but, importantly, not in the water column, on the surface, or in the airspace above. Also, Russia would command certain rights to regulate traffic in the area in order to protect its riches.

These are privileges and potential wealth to which Greenland and Canada have so far been the only contenders.

Few security risks

At the heart of the matter are overlapping demands for very large tracts of seabed, tantalizing dreams of oil, gas and other treasure. Whipping up further prospects of drama and strife, however, would run against what most experts expect.

In Denmark, the chairman of the Foreign Policy Committee of parliament, Martin Lidegaard, who was Denmark’s minister of foreign affairs when Denmark and Greenland submitted their submission to the CLCS in 2014, only learned of the Russian mission when approached for this article, but he is not worried:

“If Russia enlages its submission based on new scientific grounds, I can not see that this needs to have any security implications. The Danish Kingdom itself has put forward a large demand, and I assume that we are heading towards difficult negotiations under all circumstances,” he said. 

Assistant professor Jon Rahbek-Clemmensen from the Center for Arctic Security Studies at the Royal Danish Defence Academy agreed: “Security wise this doesn’t mean much. It is international waters, and the Russian’s can sail and fly there as much as they want. The decisive issue for Denmark is whether Russia sticks to current rules and conventions and there is nothing that indicates any breach of the rules at this stage,” he told me.

Denmark’s Defence Intelligence Service sees a potential risk, but only if the recommendations of the CLCS rules very squarely against Russia’s wishes. In this case, the service says, Russia might “choose a different approach”.

Canada’s leading expert, professor and Canada Research ChairMichael Byersfrom the Department of Political Science at University of British Columbia agrees with Lidegaard and Clemmensen:

“I am not alarmed. My assumption is that Russia is simply preparing for all eventualities. In the unlikely situation where the CLCS determines that the Lomonosov Ridge is a natural prolongation of the Asian continent only, Russia wants to have submitted data that enables the Commission to affirm its sovereign rights all the way across to the outer limit of the Canadian and Danish exclusive economic zones”.

Most observers expect tough direct negotiations between the states involved,  because the CLCS will find, most likely, that the Lomonosov Ridge connects to both Russia, Greenland and Canada.

In this case, the nations involved will have to negotiate the final borders themselves; the CLCS will not deal with the actual drawing of political borders.

Martin Lidegaard already looks beyond the negotiations.

“An extended Russian submission will make it even more important to talk about how we regulate the area after the borders have been drawn,” he said. He would like to fully protect a smaller part of the ocean around the North Pole itself and to regulate against pollution and militarization in the rest of the ocean outside national jurisdictions.

Russia “unhappy”

Russia’s submission to the CLCS in 2015 laid claim to the seabed from Russia’s exclusive economic zone to the North Pole and somewhat beyond; it is a possible extension of this claim that is now in focus. A certain amount of anger may be involved.

Denmark’s and Greenland’s submission from 2014 covers close to 900.000 square kilometers of Arctic seabed – it was an unexpectedly massive demand. Following pressure from Greenland, Copenhagen agreed to stretch the demand as much as legally possible all the way to Russia’s exclusive economic zone.

Copenhagen’s Defence Intelligence Service said in its December analysis that Russia was “likely unhappy with the extent of the Kingdom’s claim”.

According to an educated estimate an extended Russian submission could potentially increase the overlap between Russia’s existing claim and that of Denmark and Greenland with some 200.000 square kilometers, adding to an overlap already at 600.000 square kilometers.

On top of this, an enlarged Russian submission would most likely increase Russia’s overlap also with the Canadian and possibly the US designs.

Interestingly, there is no indication to date that anything of value might be found under the seabed north of Greenland. Also, the ice and the impressive depth of the ocean is likely to deter any exploration or extraction of resources for years to come. That may not be the point, however.

The UN Convention of the Law of Sea has inspired coastals states all over the world to submit claims to the CLCS for large tracts of seabed. The Danish Kingdom, comprising Denmark, the Faroe Islands and Greenland, has laid claim to five:

Three around Greenland, two at the Faroe Islands. It is about resources, but also about the political clout that will follow any such national expansion — in particular, of course, if the North Pole is part of the deal.

Russia may feel that it is under time pressure. The CLCS is reportedly about to finalize its evaluation of Russia’s submission from 2015. If an extension of this claim is to be included in the CLCS’s evaluation this time around, time may be an issue.

Russia’s keen interest in the Arctic seabed has long been evident. In 2007, two small Russian submarines dived 4300 meter to the bottom of the ocean at the North Pole and planted a Russian flag. While president Vladimir Putin praised the Russian divers, many governments were worried:

Would Russian naval vessels follow up and make claims to the Arctic seabed by force? Would Russia disregard international law in the Arctic Ocean?

The Russian flag planted on the bottom of the Arctic Ocean at the North Pole in 2007. Photo: NTV

Russia’s foreign secretary Sergey Lavrov called for calm: The US flag on the moon did not lead to any US claims of ownership either, he said, and Russia has adhered scrupulously to the rules of the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea ever since.

Russia is likely to win large tracts of seabed simply by following procedure; it would have next to nothing to gain from any breaches.

Also, Russia may want to test any potential extension of its existing claim in Copenhagen, Ottawa and in the rest of the Arctic coastal states before submitting it to the CLCS. The commission is only mandated to evaluate a claim if all involved agree to the process.

Norway, Denmark and Canada are unlikely to protest as long as Russia adheres to the rules and existing agreement, including the so-called Ilulissat Declaration from 2008. Washington, however, may be less easy to predict.

The US has not signed the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea but it has expressed clear intentions to win its proper share of the rights to the Arctic seabed.


This text, slightly altered, appeared first on on February 1st. 2021. 


Controversial mine in Greenland enters decisive phase

januar 14, 2021 • Af

A mining-project with rare earth, uranium, with a Chinese shareholder and many eager eyes watching from the USA, the EU and elsewhere has entered its so far most decisive phase in Greenland.

The history behind is illustrious: After a brief summer visit to the small town of Narsaq in grassy southern Greenland in 1957, Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr, famous for his Nobel Prize and his part in the Manhattan Project in the U.S. that led to the first nuclear bomb, had a small square named after him. Last time I was in Narsaq, the diminutive sign was still testifying to the event: “Niels Bohr Square.”

Greenland Minerals has been working to establish a mine at Kvanefjeld since 2007. (Greenland Minerals)

While the sign was put up, Danish soldiers worked their geiger counters on Kuannersuit, a nearby mountain, where geologists had found extraordinary amounts of radioactivity. The ambition was to bring uranium from Narsaq — which is, according to the 1,350 local inhabitants, the most beautiful town in Greenland — to Denmark for use in yet-to-be developed nuclear power plants.

A mine shaft, the mouth of which can still be seen, was drilled halfway up the mountain, and in 1980 more than 4,200 tons of ore was shipped to Denmark for closer scrutiny. Shortly after, Denmark decided never to build any nuclear power plants, and the importance of Greenland’s uranium paled to the same color as Niels Bohr. Instead, the lead role was given to the so-called rare earths, the superminerals of our time.

Kuannersuit (also known as Kvanefjeld) holds one of the largest known deposits of rare earths in the world. Rare earths, which include 17 different minerals, are found in many places on Earth, but nowhere in as tempting amounts and compositions as in Narsaq, and the mine on the top of Kuannersuit, some 600 meters above sea level, has never been closer to becoming a reality than today.

Which is why the political process that was officially started just before Christmas in late December 2020 could have far-reaching effects, including influencing the national defense of the U.S. and its allies, the emergence and growth of technologies the world needs for the fight against global warming and the future of Greenland.

Another mining project, Tanbreez, which lies less than 50 kilometers away, also holds rare earths and is also edging closer to fruition, but Tanbreez is smaller, has no uranium, and most political attention is presently on Kuannersuit.

Political support

After 10 years of wrangling with Greenland Minerals A/S, the mining company behind the plans for Kuannersuit, Greenland’s environmental authorities have tentatively approved the company’s plans for environmental protection at the proposed mine and the plans for other interaction with the surrounding society. Now that the relevant documents have been translated into Greenlandic, which is Greenland’s official language, the final political process has begun. For now, a majority in parliament has declared itself in favor of the mine, if no unexpected environmental problems are unearthed during the public hearings.

Greenland’s young liberal minister for raw materials, Jens Frederik Nielsen, is openly supportive:

“This is an important mine. It will create jobs and economic growth. It would be great if we were already at the finishing line, but we must of course follow the law and the process must be allowed to be played out,” he told me in Nuuk a few days ago.

With the necessary reservations he predicts that the mine may open “within a year, perhaps only half a year.”

This is epoch-making.

Indispensable minerals

If you look at Kuannersuit from the air, you will see large whitish patches of mountain with little or no vegetation. The rare earths are sufficiently potent to be easily detected, and while most people have no inkling as to their practical use, their importance to the world has grown almost as fast as that of uranium back when nuclear power was in the making.

Today, scores of crucial technological inventions are highly dependent on rare earth minerals. These minerals, with names like neodymium, praseodymium, terbium and dysprosium, are indispensable in the electronic fridges, self-driving cars and other electronics that are to communicate through the internet of things. They are at work in the computer I write on, in my cell phone — and in navigation systems for nuclear missiles. They are used in solar panels and they are essential in magnets for the pumps, windmills and electrical vehicles that are paramount for the fight against global warming.

Without the rare earths many of the political ambitions to combat the climate crisis would be endangered. According to Greenland Minerals, Kuannersuit is particularly rich in four of the key minerals — the ones mentioned above. During a briefing in Nuuk, Jørn Skov, the company’s new executive managing director, told me that Kuannersuit may satisfy towards one-fifth of the world’s demand for these four:

“I think it is a fantastic story. Greenland can deliver 15-20 percent of what is needed to drive the green transition. This is the world’s greatest challenge, and imagine that Greenland can help solve this. Meanwhile, Kuannersuit may also solve some of Greenland’s own fundamental economic problems,” he says.

Over the last 10-12 years Greenland Minerals have drilled more than 70 kilometers of holes into Kuannersuit and the size and composition of the mineral deposits have been certified by Australia’s Joint Ore Reserves Committee. Documentation is important: Jørn Skov and Greenland Minerals’ Australian holding company need investors who are willing to invest $1.2 billion in order to establish the mine — if the political permission is granted from Nalakkersuisut.

Kuannersuit lies a bumpy six- or seven-kilometer journey along a gravel road from Narsaq. The route takes visitors past the garbage dump, then a small bay and left of Sofus’ and Suka Frederiksen’s farm, where a small herd of Greenland’s very few cows feed. (Suka, a former minister of foreign affairs for Greenland, died this summer after a long illness.) The cows are low and compact, a small dark Arctic variant of the ordinary cow, but they are sweet and smart and eye passers by without consternation. After the farm, the gravel path rises more steeply towards Kuannersuit. Cars have to stop half way up the slope, not far from the old mine shaft. The rest of the Kuannersuit is climbed by foot.

I heard on an earlier occasion that Greenland Minerals might buy Sofus’ farm. Even Jørn Skov’s engaging presentation does not exclude the possibility that a mine on top of Kuannersuit’s uneven plateau, where some 1,200 workers are due during the construction phase, will produce such amounts of dust and so much trucking with heavy vehicles that the area closest to the mine might be somewhat contaminated.

The village of Narsaq in southern Greenland. Greenland Minerals is one approval away from being able to begin operating an open-pit mine on the plateau overlooking the village (Greenland Minerals)

For years, large yellow signs stuck on containers from Greenland Minerals near Sofus’ farm have warned bypassing locals against potential nuclear radiation, and many of Narsaq’s citizens are nervous. They fear for their children’s health, for the sheep in the valleys, the fish and the whales in the fjord, for the nascent south Greenland veggie-farms, for the wild berries on the mountain, for their peace of mind and tranquility. Some years back, rumors had it that the whole of Narsaq will close or have to relocate if the mine moves in.

American interest

And do all these details carry any importance to other than the locals? Yes, indeed.

In the summer of 2019 U.S. President Donald Trump issued a presidential memoranda for publication in the Federal Register. The president asked his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, to take note of the president’s concern that the U.S. does not possess sufficient capacity for the production of minerals from rare earths.

The president sternly suggested other ways forward: “Without Presidential action under section 303 of the Act, United States industry cannot reasonably be expected to provide the production capability for separation and processing of Light Rare Earth Elements adequately and in a timely manner. Further, purchases, purchase commitments, or other action pursuant to section 303 of the Act are the most cost-effective, expedient, and practical alternative method for meeting the need for this critical capability.”

The president wanted increased effort to solve the problem, and three weeks later he confirmed that he had indeed contemplated buying the whole of Greenland — including its 57,000 inhabitants, sled dogs — and minerals. As many will recall, the offer was promptly rejected by both Greenland and Denmark, which still holds sovereignty over Greenland.

But the pursuit of Greenland’s minerals continued. For three weeks in August 2019, a U.S.-sponsored airborne survey for new deposits took place in southern Greenland, and when Thomas Ulrich Brechbuhl, chief advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Greenland in October 2019, the rare earths once again played an important role. In June this year, the Pentagon asked Congress to legislate to secure sufficient rare earths for U.S. defense. The news portal DefenseNews reported that the proposed legislation would raise spending caps under the Defense Production Act to enable the U.S. government to spend up to $1.75 billion on rare earth elements in munitions and missiles.

A Chinese shareholder

In 2016, China’s interest in Kuannersuit became evident as the Chinese mining conglomerate Shenghe bought 12.5 percent of Greenland Minerals’ shares. Shenghe is still the company’s largest shareholder, though now with 9 percent of the shares. The point here is, that China controls more than 90 percent of the global production of minerals from rare earths. The process of separating the minerals from the ore is technologically demanding, expensive and messy, particularly since acids are used in the extraction process. The Chinese companies are world champions in this and the EU and the U.S. both worry that China might use its monopoly for pressure.

Which is why it did not go unnoticed when, in 2018, Greenland Minerals signed a non-binding agreement with Shenghe, which stipulated that Shenghe might eventually buy the total output of rare earths from Kuannersuit, some 32,000 tons of ore.

“Shenghe have expressed an intent to acquire all rare earth output produced at the project whether as a mineral or chemical concentrate product on arm’s length pricing reflecting published internationally traded prices,” Greenland Minerals wrote in a press release, after which the company’s stocks went up. In January 2019 Shenghe signed a deal with China National Nuclear Corporation, which was also to enjoy the fruits from Kuannersuit. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the state-owned CNNC is a key developer behind China’s nuclear power supply as well as China’s arsenal of nuclear weapons

A market in Europe

Today, however, any focus by Greenland Minerals on direct sales to China seems to have evaporated. Instead, representatives of Greenland Minerals hold sales talks in Brussels. In September, the EU Commission launched a wide ranging campaign to secure supplies of rare earths and other strategic minerals to Europe. The EU Commission wants to connect European industries with producers of rare earths like Greenland Minerals, and Jørn Skov finds the approach promising.

Shenghe from China will still deliver the necessary technology for the mine at Kuannersuit, just like Shenge provides knowhow and technology for the Mountain Pass rare earth mine in California, where Shenghe is also a shareholder; not even the U.S. makes do without China’s expertise. But Greenland Minerals’ strategy is now to sell the entire package of valuable rare earth content from Kuannersuit in Europe. Time will show if this also goes for the uranium from Kuannersuit that Niels Bohr looked for six decades ago. Any export of uranium from Greenland must be preceded by a detailed agreement between Denmark and the end user country.

“We cannot say anything about this at this stage,” says Jørn Skov.

A radioactive byproduct

Greenland Minerals talks about the uranium as a byproduct from the potential mine that will inevitably be unearthed as the rare earths are excavated. But even if uranium makes up only a small portion of Greenland Minerals’ planned production, it pains many souls and minds in Greenland.

The citizens of Narsaq and many in the rest of Greenland have been bitterly divided over uranium since the 1980s. In 2014, a ban on uranium mining in Greenland was lifted by a single vote in the Inatsisartut, Greenland’s parliament.

Protestors gather in Nuuk in 2018 to demonstrate against uranium mining. (Urani? Naamik)

The opposing forces have united in Urani Naamik, a Uranium-No-Thanks-association, and Muté B. Egede, chairman of Inuit Ataqatigiit, Greenland’s largest opposition party, who is also a southerner, was more than blunt in his dismissal of the mine on Kuannersuit when I asked him earlier this year:

“We are against uranium in Greenland, both exploration and mining. It divides our population, and we don’t think that Greenland should be turned into a waste depot for future generations. There are other and more sustainable businesses we would much rather help develop in southern Greenland,” he said. His party argues for a referendum on uranium and talks strongly about the waste issue.

Each year, Greenland Mining will crush three million tons of ore at Kuannersuit and export only a tiny fraction. The rest, the so-called tailings, are to be deposited in a large lake on top of Kuannersuit.

The head of the Nuuk office of the Arctic Program of the World Wildlife Fund, Kaare Winther Hansen, also remains skeptical:

“First of all, Greenland Minerals will not ship its chemical waste out of Greenland. They want to dump it in a lake behind an artificial dam, and there are doubts about these dams: Will they last or will they not? We are not impressed. Secondly, they will not establish an underground mine, but an open pit mine on a location with thorium, uranium and fluoride compounds, which are potentially dangerous and likely to spread in the surrounding area since it is an open pit mine. The citizens of Narsaq live only 5 kilometers from the nearest part of the mine. They use surface water for drinking, so you will also have a dust-problem,” he says.

Greenland Minerals habit of headhunting the most capable of the Greenland governments own staff also irks the critics. They object when top civil servants exchange their access to confidential government information with top tier jobs with Greenland Minerals. From the outset in 2007 the company hired the head of the Department of Raw Materials in Nuuk. A few years laters, Lars-Emil Johansen, a former member of Greenland’s government and former head of Siumut, Greenland’s largest political party, took on the position as chairman of the board Greenland Minerals and in July this year Jørn Skov took the plunge.

For more than two decades until shortly before accepting his present executive position with Greenland Minerals, Skov worked as head of key departments within Greenland’s government. He was well known for his profound influence on legislation pertaining to Greenland’s raw materials; one of the most powerful shadows behind Greenland’s front line politicians.

“I am probably not the least controversial figure in the country,” as he says.

“We find it scary,” said the former head of Urani Naamik, Marianne Paviasen, who is now a member of parliament for Inuit Ataqatigiit.

An economic boost

Jørn Skov, who also took with him a trusted colleague, did not break any laws when he went to work for the mining company, and the Kuannersuit mine enjoys support from a majority of Inatsisartut, at least until further notice. The support is garnered primarily because of the promise of more than 700 permanent jobs in Narsaq, all in the mine.

Such a boom would cause a revolution in south Greenland, a region painfully suffering from unemployment and from a serious exodus of many young and qualified people. More than half of the 700 jobs at the proposed mine at Kuannersuit will go to foreigners, since Greenland cannot provide the needed number of skilled hands, but still: According to Greenland Minerals’ own estimate, Greenland’s treasury is likely to receive more than $200 million per year in taxes and other income throughout the life of the mine. Should such sums really materialize, Kuannersuit may potentially help solve a major part of Greenland’s economic woes.

The port in Narsaq, Greenland, in 2011. (Claire Rowland / CC via Flickr)

“We will simply close the holes in Greenland’s economy,” says Skov.

To the more eager, this may make Greenland’s secession from Denmark look more realistic; Greenland’s first ever constitution is already in the oven. Jens Frederik Nielsen, the minister for raw materials, does not talk of secession or high politics at all, but he readily shares his high expectations:

“For me, wealth is the jobs we create and the tax revenue that follows. We can build new competences and we will have a ground for new developments in southern Greenland, that is still badly hurting. That is the most important to me,” he tells me. Nielsen seems convinced that the environment will be handled responsibly:

“We have good legislation on raw materials, which forces the companies to adhere to very hard demands. I have much sympathy for the concerns about radioactivity within the local population. I have talked to the association about this; but I trust our legislation,” he says.

The public hearing about Greenland Minerals’ plans for environmental protection and for the potential mine’s interaction with the rest of society will probably last at least 10 weeks. Afterwards, all complaints must be registered and addressed by the authorities or Greenland Minerals.

When this is over, Greenland’s political leadership in Nuuk, the parliament and Naalakkersuisut, the government, will make a final decision whether the mine on Kuannersuit will be allowed to go ahead or not.

This article was first published at on 18. December 2020.