Poland’s former FA Minister warns about Russian plans regarding Arctic

Russia is increasing its military presence in the Arctic. The Kremlin is not only remilitarizing the region but is also trying to impose its supremacy through a policy of accomplished facts - legal, economic and military - says Polish MEP from the Law and Justice Party and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anna Fotyga in an interview with the Polish Press Agency (PAP).

The European Parliament has recently adopted a report on the Arctic penned by the Polish MEP. Asked whether the Arctic is perceived as an exotic topic by Polish politicians, Ms Fotyga stated that she has for a long time tried to focus on horizontal issues where it is possible to perceive the state of play of the largest countries, certain trends, that will have a broad impact on European politics.

This is done “to promote Polish presence and interests, which after all are not limited to Europe,” she said. “I do not agree with the opinion that the Arctic is an exotic region for Poland. Poland has been an observer on the Arctic Council for years, our scientific presence is universally recognised, many of our compatriots live in Arctic states, and the Arctic is going to play an increasingly important role for Poland's economy and security,” Ms Fotyga argued.

She stated that she was pleased that her report received broad support across the political spectrum when it was adopted in the European Parliament, with 506 MEPs voting in favour of the document and only 36 opposing voices.

“A group of MEPs, most of them pro-Russian, voted against the document in which we gave a realistic description of Russian policy. In turn the group of Greens, who hoped that in the matter of climate or exploitation of mineral deposits the report would promote recommendations exceeding our knowledge and thematic scope, finally abstained from voting,” the Polish MEP explained.

Ms Fotyga argued that a change in the perception of the Arctic is urgently needed, as the increasingly tense international situation is forcing the EU to revise its policy towards the region, saying “since the end of the Cold War, the Arctic has been a zone of peace and international cooperation, but in recent years the situation has changed. There has been an increased Russian military presence in the region, while China is seeking to integrate the northern Arctic seaway into its 'Belt and Road' initiative”.

She argued that the EU, but also the UN, must be particularly opposed to a departure from the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and the conventions of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), which provide a framework for international cooperation and guarantee freedom of navigation.

According to Ms Fotyga, Russia is already failing to respect this principle in the framework of the opening of the Northern Sea Route by illegally introducing various types of regulatory and administrative barriers, consents and other restrictions.

The recently adopted report also says Europe must reduce its dependence on China for minerals and the Arctic should play a central role in the European Raw Materials Alliance (ERMA).

Asked about this, Ms Fotyga said that including Greenland in ERMA is crucial for the EU’s supply of certain strategic raw materials is paramount, saying, “it is somewhat paradoxical that global warming allows us to extract raw materials that are key to the development of green technologies and the fight against global warming. Today, Europe imports most of the raw materials it needs from China. Let us remember, however, that these raw materials are used not only to manufacture wind turbine components, but are also key to military technology”.

She added that if Europe wants to talk about any kind of autonomy, it should start by making itself independent of supplies of strategic raw materials from its systemic rival.

Speaking about Russia’s ambitions in the north, she stated “as far as Russia is concerned, I do not think anyone is in any doubt anymore that the reconstruction of Soviet-era bases, the new investments, or the status of the Northern Fleet as a separate military district, go far beyond legitimate defence purposes, and thus reflect Russia's desire to achieve a strategic military advantage in the region”.

She argued that this could all be seen in Moscow’s confrontational attitude, the treatment of the region as a sphere of the military, territorial and economic expansion, an arena for big state ambitions, and legacy that Putin wants to leave behind.

She also added that Russia has been blocking the EU’s request to be given observer status in the Arctic Council since 2013. However, she stated that this had not prevented the Union from de facto participating in the work of the Arctic Council through its many partners in the Arctic that are members of NATO and the European Economic Area, but also Japan, South Korea and India. Ms Fotyga said that coordinating actions between these states more closely and enforcing respect for international law will be the best response to Russian expansion and Russian-Chinese cooperation in the Arctic.