Address by Deputy Permanent Representative Karen Malayan at the "Talking Barents" seminar, 16 June 2016
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honour and a pleasure to be here with you on the initiative of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat and the North Norway European Office in the framework of the Chairmanship of the Russian Federation of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council.
I would like to start by using this opportunity to pay tribute to my distinguished colleague and a teacher, a well-known Russian diplomat Ambassador Yury Fokin who was instrumental in launching the Barents co-operation process from the Russian side first, as director of the European Department of the Russian MFA in 1992-93 when the Kirkenes Declaration was prepared and signed, and then Russian Ambassador to Norway (later he was Russian Ambassador to the UK and the Principal of the Russian Diplomatic Academy). He passed away two months ago.
Throughout his professional life and work he was always a strong advocate of the benefits and the synergy of joint efforts of the Barents process member-states and regions. He was a strong believer in the Barents co-operation format as a unique cross-border platform to bring together the people of the North of Europe. In the book he co-wrote together with his diplomatic colleague A.Smirnov “The Kirkenes Declaration on the Co-operation in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region. A View from Russia, 20 Years On” he wrote, and I quote: “In addition to various geographic and maritime dictionaries the name of the great W.Barents has entered the global political vocabulary as a synonym of mutually beneficial co-operation and good neighbourhood”.
Indeed, regional cooperation remains an important channel of dialogue with our North-European partners in these challenging times in international relations, allowing for a business-like and constructive discussion on regional issues. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) is one of the main formats of cooperation uniting Russia and North-European countries. Over more than 20 years of its existence, the Council has proven itself an effective platform for inter-governmental co-operation encompassing all key areas of social life. In this respect it is important to avoid any politisation of its work and keep it as an instrument that generates a unifying agenda and contributes to building an area of trust and stability in the region.
The Barents cooperation is a unique format in a sense that it has a regional level – apart from the BEAC, there are direct contacts between local administrative and territorial units of Russia, Finland, Norway and Sweden in the framework of the Barents Regional Council (BRC). This two-level cooperation makes it possible to identify the most vital joint co-operation projects and efficiently combine national strategic priorities with interests and needs of the regions. Since October 2015 the BRC is chaired by the Finnish province of Kainuu with which we have established close working contacts.
The main goal of the Russian Chairmanship of the Council is to further promote sustainable social and economic development of the Barents region, build modern infrastructure, enhance the region's competitiveness and investment attractiveness while making a rational use of its scientific, innovative and resource capabilities. Ultimately, it is about improving the quality of life of those people who live here. We will pursue this goal in full compliance with the required environmental standards and taking into account the interests of the indigenous peoples.
Identifying our priorities for the BEAC Chairmanship, we were guided both by the principle of continuity and the understanding of today’s problems of the region. That is why we focused on the fields of transport and logistics, environment and climate, as well as culture and tourism. This choice of priority areas fully reflects the needs of the region and is supported by other participants of the Barents cooperation. Each of them will be addressed at a respective ministerial meeting. In our view, this approach highlights the practice- and result-oriented nature of the Russian Chairmanship.
Enhancing the transport system is a natural prerequisite for fostering inter-regional trade and economic relations. Modern infrastructure is key to implementation of large-scale projects creating state-of-the-art production facilities and generating new jobs. Development of new arterial roads in the North, including the use of the Northern Sea Route as the shortest shipping lane between Northern Europe and the Asia-Pacific Region, will contribute to increasing volumes of trade and economic cooperation among BEAC member states, that for the time being is still quite moderate.
Another objective on this track is adoption of the Joint Barents Transport Plan which has been developed since 2013. The document envisages establishment of 16 effecient, safe and sustainable cross-border transportation routes (corridors), seven of which will go through the territory of the Russian Federation, combining railways, motor roads and sea routes. Besides, there is an intention to develop East-West aviation routes in Northern Europe, in particular between Oulu-Luleå-Tromsø (in operation since spring 2015), Arkhangelsk-Murmansk-Tromsø (suspended in autumn 2014), Arkhangelsk-Kirkenes (two test flights planned for 2017), and Syktyvkar-Kotlas-Arkhangelsk (in operation).
Establishing regular ferry routes between Northern Norway and Russian Arctic ports (Murmansk and Arkhangelsk) is another promising project. In autumn 2016 the Arctic Haven project (construction of a passenger sea port, related infrastructure and modernisation of the port for reception of deep-water cruise ships) should be completed to mark the 100-year anniversary of Murmansk.
In the work on environmental agenda we focus on practical steps to further eliminate environmental “hotspots” in the Russian part of the Barents Euro-Arctic region. By now, nine out of forty two such “hotspots” identified by the BEAC and the Arctic Council have been eliminated in North-Western Russia. We will continue this work.
Protection of water resources, green technologies and environmentally sustainable consumption, environmental education and development of a network of specially protected natural areas constitute another sphere of co-operation.
Climate change is among the most acute problems, which has not only global, but also a clear regional dimension, as it affects the traditional way of life and habitat of the peoples of the North. In this respect we attach great importance to implementation of the Action Plan on Climate Change for the Barents Co-operation adopted by the BEAC Environment Ministers (on 4-5 December 2013 in Inari, Finland).
We consider culture and tourism as a humanitarian dimension of the Russian Chairmanship programme and important elements of developing people-to-people contacts. One of the main objectives is to finalize the work on modalities of the Barents Scholarship in culture, so that the first one could be awarded in 2017-2018. We also plan to establish a platform for regular information exchange in the field of culture with other regional cooperation formats in Northern Europe.
Implementation of tourist projects could give an impetus to the development of Nordic regions through additional investment flow and new jobs. We are examining a possibility of a joint international project in the field of Arctic tourism with the following route: Kirkenes – Murmansk – the Franz Joseph Land Archipelago – the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago – the Solovetsky Islands Archipelago – Arkhangelsk. The project can be launched as early as in 2017.
An important step in this direction would be the expected decision to include Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the list of ports where cruise ships can enter for a 72-hour stop with visa-free stay for their foreign passengers. Draft Regulation of the Government has been prepared by the Russian Ministry of Culture and in February this year submitted to the Government for consideration.
This list of priority areas forming the agenda of the Russian Chairmanship is naturally not exhaustive. Other fields include economic and business cooperation, development of economic ties, energy, research and education, healthcare, youth exchanges, co-operation in emergency prevention, readiness and response, as well as resumption of co-operation between the national customs services.
The calendar of our Chairmanship is full of events at various levels and in various thematic fields that cover basically all mentioned priorities and will be held mostly in the regions of the North-West of Russia.
The Chairmanship programme includes four ministerial meetings. In November 2015 Environment Ministers of the BEAC member states met in Sortavala (the Republic of Karelia). They achieved important results highlighting the practice-oriented nature of the Barents cooperation and its focus on specific needs of the regions and its population.
In the coming days, on 20-21 June, Ministers of Transport will meet in Arkhangelsk. In autumn Ministers of Culture will hold a meeting in Moscow. To crown the 2-year Chairmanship, a Ministerial Session of the Council will take place in Archangelsk in October 2017.
Support of small-numbered indigenous peoples of the North is an important item on the agenda of the Russian BAEC Chairmanship. We pay great attention to the preservation of the indigenous environment and traditional ways of life of autochthonous peoples of the North and meeting their ethno-cultural needs. In this regard the idea of holding a High-Level Event of the indigenous peoples of the Barents region (a kind of a summit) during the Russian BEAC Chairmanship with participation of the Norwegian Barents Secretariat is being discussed with the Working Group on Indigenous Populations. This event is preliminarily scheduled for spring 2017 in Moscow.
We also have to find a mechanism to further strengthen the synergy between the BEAC and other regional councils in Northern Europe. I am referring, first of all, to the Arctic Council, the Council of the Baltic Sea States, the Nordic Council of Ministers and the Northern Dimension partnership. Better coordinated efforts of multilateral cooperation formats in the North-European region will allow for better use of advantages of each platform while maintaining their independence and identity.
We keep open our proposal to resume coordinating meetings of regional Nordic councils and Northern Dimension partnerships at the level of deputy ministers of foreign affairs – the idea that was set forth at the Ministerial Session of BEAC member states in Oulu in October 2015.
This meeting could be held in Russia in the framework of the Russian BEAC Chairmanship. We believe that it would foster multilateral co-operation in Northern Europe and help find new ideas on efficient “division of labour” between the relevant regional formats.
To conclude, I would like to quote again Ambassador Yury Fokin’s book that I mentioned: “The key point is that the political climate should not be defined by the Polar winds of the returning fear and mistrust of the Cold War times but a warm Gulf Stream of the Barents process that along with the national interests puts at the heart interests of the common people of the North, including Russians, Norwegians, Saams, Finns, Swedes and other ethnic population”.
Thank you for your attention.