On October 13, the European Commission (EC) published a resonant document on the promotion of its interests in the Arctic, where the European Union is referred to as an "authoritative political actor" having its own strategy not only in the European Arctic, but also in the entire Arctic space. Moreover, the document says the European Union's engagement in Arctic issues is brought about by "geopolitical necessity".
One of the European Commission's landmark initiatives is its intention to completely ban the extraction of oil, gas and coal in the Arctic and its border locations. "Along with its partners, the Commission will study the multilateral legal obligation of not allowing further development of hydrocarbon reserves in the Arctic or adjacent regions," the document reads. If the "wrongdoers" keep extracting oil and gas in the Arctic, a ban is proposed to be worked out on transactions with "polar" hydrocarbons. There is also a recommendation to extend "partial moratoriums on exploration of hydrocarbons in the Arctic." At the same time, the EC wants to include the Arctic in the hydrocarbon neutrality transition program, highlighting the continent's obscure green power potential (wind power, geothermal power, water power, and green hydrogen).
At first glance, the EC's Arctic manifesto is a cut at all the Arctic Council member states (apart from Russia, the organization comprises seven more polar countries: Denmark, Iceland, Canada, Norway, the USA, Finland and Sweden). But Russia has no allies in this coalition. Therefore, the EC initiative should be regarded as an outright attempt to encroach on Russia's state sovereignty. After all, Brussels is well aware that Arctic development is one of the country's strategic priorities. This is fixed in a decree by President Vladimir Putin dated October 26, 2020 "on the development strategy for the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and ensuring national security until 2035". Nevertheless, Brussels issued its subject-matter speculative appeal without any legal support: the European Union is not endowed with authority to dictate to the countries represented in the Arctic how they should act in their own territories.
Russia has a detailed and consistent response to the EC challenge by default. The text of the Development Strategy for the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and Ensuring National Security until 2035 clearly stipulates the execution of key tasks in developing international cooperation through a number of measures, including maintained interaction with the Arctic states to protect national interests and implement the coastal state's rights in the Arctic provided for by international acts, including those dealing with continental shelf resources exploration and development, as well as the establishment of its external borders. In other words, Russia is sending a clear signal of preventing outside interference in Arctic development plans, while building a constructive dialogue with the region's coastal states alone. Apparently, authors of the European Commission's "Arctic document" are either unfamiliar with the Russian doctrine or have deliberately went in for such a populist adventure.
In the Arctic Council, decisions are made by consensus, which implies their approval by all the association's members. But Denmark, Finland and Sweden are strongly biased, being members of the EU, and have long been lobbying for Brussels to gain observer status but failed. Moreover, it is not worth counting on progress at all, as Russia is only alarmed by the EC's attempt to dictate its rules in the Arctic. According to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak, the EU document on the alliance's goals in the Arctic "is not motivated by anything, except political reasons." Although the Arctic Council grants observer status not only to non-Arctic states (over a dozen already), but also to intergovernmental/inter-parliamentary and non-governmental organizations.
In 2021-2023, Russia chairs the Arctic Council and oversees the organization's efficient operation, particularly the promotion of joint projects, including those aimed to ensure sustainable development of the Arctic and preservation of the cultural heritage of minor peoples. The presiding country's agenda also embraces the development of general framework for implementing investment projects in the Arctic zone involving foreign capital; the arrangement of events aimed to attract foreign investors to the Arctic zone projects; the enhancement of the Arctic Economic Council (established in 2014 under the Arctic Council to expand economic cooperation in the region and increase its investment attractiveness) as one of the central forums on sustainable development of the Arctic.
The Arctic region is rich in hydrocarbons, and their further massive extraction will boost Europe's energy security, as Russia plans to expand their exports in the future. The EC's declaration to ban the extraction of hydrocarbons in the Arctic makes no sense. After all, the way the notorious energy transition will be implemented becomes absolutely unclear: even the production of hydrogen, a promising fuel the European Union pins high hopes on, requires considerable volumes of natural gas as a raw material. This particularly refers to Russia's polar gas. The EC's request to influence the processes in the Arctic so as to restrain Russia's creative plans in the region resembles a desire to shoot itself in the leg.