Canada’s foreign affairs minister said the country now has a “united front” against Russia in the Arctic as a decades-old territorial spat was resolved with Denmark.
Canada and Denmark signed an agreement Tuesday to resolve the dispute over Hans Island in the Arctic, and Melanie Joly said in a news conference that it sends a message to Russian President Vladimir Putin that diplomatic resolves are better than force.
“Now we have a united front in front of (Putin),” she said, noting that Canada is very aware that Russia is its neighbour.
The agreement is expected to divide the uninhabited island between Ellesmere Island, in Nunavut, and Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory. The deal means that Canada, for the first time, will share a land border with Denmark.
Joly pointed out that seven out of eight Arctic nations are a part of NATO, including Denmark, or will be a part of the military alliance soon.
However, she said there are no plans to militarize the Arctic.
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“We cannot fall into the trap of militarizing the Arctic,” she said. “This is very important for us Canadians.”
Her comments come after Canadian officials have flagged security concerns over Russia and China in the Arctic as climate change is making the region easier to navigate.
“Russia and China are the state actors that pose the greatest threats to Canadian and other western interests in the Arctic,” Maj.-Gen. Michael Wright, the Canadian military’s defence intelligence chief, previously told Global News in March.
“With the melting of sea ice, access to the region and associated tactics are increasing and this will have a significant impact on the security situation in the Arctic.”
Meanwhile, Canada’s defence chief, Gen. Wayne Eyre, said in March that Russia has reoccupied abandoned Cold War bases in the region and that defending NATO’s northern flank “is a key area of concern” for the Canadian military.
In April, Putin put forward an ambitious plan to secure Russia’s foothold in the Arctic, including building new ports and other infrastructure, as well as expanding its icebreaker fleet.
Joly said Tuesday that the Arctic Council, an international forum for the region, met this week and she hopes that the momentum will continue to figure out its next steps. It consists of Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, the United States and Russia, though Russia was not invited to the recent meeting in protest of its war in Ukraine.
“Meanwhile, expect Russia to abide by the rules and ultimately we keep the arctic a low-tension region,” Joly said.
— with files from Amanda Connolly, The Canadian Press and The Associated Press