Whitney Lackenbauer comments to Russian-Canadian Cooperation in the Field of Sustainable Development conference



Thank you to Dr. Likhacheva, the Roscongress Foundation, the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, and the Analytical Center for organizing the event and for the opportunity to participate  — and I really applaud the aspirations of the ThinkArctic Project


I have written extensively on Russia-Canada Arctic relations, and once described our two countries as “mirror images” on Arctic affairs

  • I think that there are many misunderstandings on both the Canadian and the Russian sides about our respective Arctic identities, and motivations, and intentions, and that it is important to “break the ice curtain” between our two countries to find ways to cooperate on Arctic issues – even if we have limited opportunities for cooperation in other parts of the world


We are all well aware of broader international differences of opinion between Canada and Russia, as well as the sanctions regime in place emanating from the 2014 Ukranian Crisis and persistent issues since that time

So the statement on p.14 of the comprehensive pre-reading backgrounder that we were provided noted that “cooperation in the Arctic can become the basis for reviving the partnership in other areas” may be misleading

  • I would suggest that we best to focus our ambitions for renewed cooperation in discrete areas of common interest IN THE ARCTIC – and I would suggest that using Arctic collaboration as a vehicle to try to change broader disagreements over sanctions, or military security issues, is likely to fail and is best avoided
  • In short, given the overall tenor of our international relationship, I think that it is still best to keep our Arctic cooperation away from areas that are likely to cause concern
    • And this includes initiatives through the Arctic Council

Other limits relate to Russia’s Arctic Council chairmanship program which – like Canada’s program during our last time as chair – tends to blur the lines between domestic and circumpolar issues

  • I am not criticizing Russia for doing so – this is common for chairs
  • But I think that we need to respect the limits of what roles the AC can serve as a mechanism for advancing domestic interests, and what should – and can – be accomplished domestically, or bilaterally, or through forums like the Barents Euro-Arctic Council

Canadians like myself want to see Russia succeed as chair

  • Your success is the Council’s success, and we share your view that this remains the pre-eminent forum for Arctic cooperation that brings together Arctic states, Indigenous peoples and observers to address sustainable development and environmental protection — issues of importance to Northerners in both Canada and the Russian Federation


We also respect the mandate of the Arctic Council, which does not include a military security role

  • Most expert commentators in Canada agree that this should remain the case – that the Arctic Council is able to function during times when global relationships are stressed because it does not get tangled up in strategic competition
  • And I have been impressed with how Russia has separated the AC from its desires to see renewed military-to-military cooperation in the Arctic, which is something that I think remains an unlikely prospect until the broader NATO-Russia relationship is sorted out and the situation in Ukraine is resolved

I see many opportunities for greater collaboration between the two largest Arctic states, because we face many common challenges


The international chapter of Canada’s 2019 Arctic and Northern Policy Framework notes that Canada:

will take steps to restart a regular bilateral dialogue on Arctic issues with Russia in key areas related to Indigenous issues, scientific cooperation, environmental protection, shipping and search and rescue. Such dialogues recognize the common interests, priorities and challenges faced by Canada, Russia and our respective Arctic and Northern communities as they struggle to adapt to and thrive in rapidly changing conditions, such as sea-ice loss, permafrost thaw and land erosion.

So, this points to some obvious areas of mutual interest

  • Indigenous issues – not only cultural exchanges and local Indigenous economies, but also building upon our bilateral history of cooperation on governance issues (like the Institutional Building for Northern Aboriginal Peoples in Russia or INRIPP program coordinated with the Inuit Circumpolar Council in the 1990s and 2000s) – it might be worth exploring if some of these efforts might be reinvigorated

We also have a shared interest in the Inuit Circumpolar Council, which represents Inuit from Canada and Chukotka (as well as Alaska and Greenland), which provides Inuit with a platform to speak with a united voice on issues of common concern and to protect and promote their way of life in international forums

  • Our ongoing support to the Permanent Participants is essential, and ensuring that Indigenous voices are heard and reflected in Arctic Council deliberations and decisions – which I am delighted that Russia has made a chairmanship priority

Because we are both Arctic Ocean Coastal States (members of the Arctic-5 or A5), we have a clear shared interest in decision-making related to the management of the Arctic Ocean

  • This includes determining the outermost limits of our Extended Continental Shelves in the Arctic Ocean – and here I want to correct the background reading that we were provided, because this is not about national “territory” but about a relatively narrow band of sovereign rights to resources on the seabed and in the subsoil
    • Sorting out the limits is not about “protecting territorial boundaries” but about carrying through on our pledge in the 2008 Ilulissat Declaration to follow international law in actually determining those boundaries
      • I welcomed Russia’s revised submission to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) in March, which reinforce how almost all of the Arctic Ocean is continental shelf – and this is a positive scientific finding for all of the Arctic coastal states as we eventually sit down diplomatically to negotiate fair boundaries
      • I see this as a positive situation, rooted in international law, where the Arctic coastal states are showing the world our compliance with the rules in UNCLOS and our adhere to due process

Similarly, as Arctic coastal states, Canada and Russia have shared interests in safe shipping

  • We actually have different legal bases for our respective positions on the Northern Sea Route and Northwest Passage, and Canada’s position is confused in the background document (as we consider these historic internal waters, not territorial waters – and we do not take a “hardline” stance that could complicate international shipping – we are merely exercising our national rights, in full compliance with our international rights
    • And Canada is not undertaking a “military buildup” to expand our legal position on the status of these waters, given that our position is longstanding and well established

I also think that, as the Central Arctic Ocean Fisheries Agreement proceeds to its next step, Canada and Russia have responsibilities to conduct the science to determine the sustainability of potential Central Arctic Ocean fishing


Indeed, we have lots of overlapping interests in science

  • Critical areas like black carbon and methane, which the COP meetings in Edinburgh raised as important issues – and I note the great work of the AC on methane

We are also the two countries with the most permafrost – so main area of interest for both our countries

  • This includes both the physical science side and social science work on the impacts of permafrost degradation on communities, infrastructure, and economies

And issues like wildfires, which Mr. Bouffard may speak about


And this connects with our respective needs to deal with environmental disasters and humanitarian response in the Arctic

  • We will all benefit if we share the lessons that we have learned and our best practices in dealing with these challenges


And last, but not least, our ongoing commitments to our Northern citizens means that we should share our knowledge on food security, which has obvious links to climate change, not only in terms of Indigenous subsistence economies, but also the importance of transportation infrastructure to ensure supply chains and resupply of our Arctic communities


I think that I will end my formal comments there, but thank you once again for the opportunity to participate in this important conversation with such distinguished colleagues


[Please feel free to contact me at if you have any follow-up questions.]