Russian foreign minister to miss Canada’s final Arctic Council meeting
WATCH: The Democracy Institute’s Patrick Basham and Roland Paris, a professor at the University of Ottawa look at the failures of the Canadian government and others in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
OTTAWA — Relations between Canada and Russia will likely remain as icy as ever in light of the sudden revelation from Russia that they will not be sending their foreign minister to the upcoming Arctic Council meeting in Iqaluit this month.
Is this part of a continued “tit-for-tat” battle?
Dealings between the two countries have been chilly since Russian soldiers annexed Crimea last year leading Canada, and the West in general, to begin imposing sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s government as well as Russian businesses.
This year’s Arctic Council meeting marks the end of Canada’s two-years chairing the group. Instead of hosting Russia’s foreign minister, though, Canada will host the their environment minister.
“Due to [Foreign Minister Sergey] Lavrov’s prior commitments, as well as extraordinary recent international developments which require his personal involvement, the Russian delegation at the Arctic Council ministerial meeting will be headed by [Environment Minister] Sergei Donskoi,” a spokesperson from the Russian embassy wrote in a recent email.
WATCH: The West Block primer explores the spike in Russian military activity in the Arctic that has sent Canadian and American jets scrambling to intercept.
While the West continues to take a very tough stance against Russia over its actions in Ukraine, Putin is no shrinking flower.
Last year, NATO countries conducted 400 interceptions of Russian aircraft, many near the Canadian Arctic.
The spike in recent Russian military activity in the Arctic has Norad scrambling jets to intercept more than usual. A Norad spokesman told Global News they noticed an increase in the number of Russian aircraft flights near North America in 2014, since Russia’s incursion in Ukraine and Crimea.
Canada’s Immigration Minister, Chris Alexander, has said Putin is “behaving like a terrorist.” The federal Associate Minister of Defence Julian Fantino, however, has taken a more diplomatic approach, saying Putin’s actions are causing much “grief.”
“We have Russia exerting its muscles in a way that’s causing a lot of grief and aggravation in the free democratic world,” he said in an interview. “And we wish they would get their act together and play in the sandbox with the rest of us.”
Norad has said they’ve decided the increased flights near North America are related to training, but some observers wonder whether it has more to do with politics —especially in light of Russia’s decision to keep its foreign minister from the Arctic Council
Patrick Basham, director of Washington, D.C.-based Democracy Institute said Russia’s aggressions are being felt worldwide.
“The Russians keep ratcheting it up. They’re stretching their legs militarily around the world, signalling that if we, the West, want to up the ante that they will meet that. In fact, they will exceed that,” he said.
But they’re not necessarily doing so because they’re looking for a fight, Basham said.
“They actually want things to plateau where they are, because they have gained something and don’t want to lose it,” he said.
Although any Russian threat is not aimed directly at the Canadian Arctic, the government can still take heed , said Roland Paris, a foreign policy expert with the University of Ottawa.
“I think it should lead us to revisit our monitoring technology, whether there is a need for reinvesting in the kind of detection equipment we have in the Arctic,” he said. “It should also probably lead us to rethink whether we’re making the right kinds of investments in terms of our ability to intercept any challenges to our sovereignty.”
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