Report discusses Finland’s new role in the Arctic

11.10.2022 10:00

Russian military aggression against Ukraine has wide and unprecedented effects on Arctic cooperation. Many of the basic assumptions of Finland's Arctic policy strategy, revised just one and half years ago, have been undermined by the upheavals caused by the war. This is stated in the report published on 11 October.

A report commissioned by the Finnish Government comprehensively examines the impact of Russian aggression on international cooperation in the Arctic region and on the implementation of Finland’s Arctic policy strategy, especially from the perspective of sustainable development goals. Gaia Consulting Oy and the Finnish Institute of International Affairs have also been involved in the study led by the Arctic Centre at the University of Lapland.

Finland’s current Arctic policy strategy dates back to June 2021. Although it highlighted the intensification of military tensions, the strategy did not foresee a situation like today in which Arctic cooperation has become significantly more complicated. The descriptions of the international operating environment and the structures of Arctic cooperation in Finland’s Arctic policy strategy are largely no longer relevant. 

The paralysis of international cooperation and research in the Arctic is particularly problematic. The sustainable development of the region requires extensive international and regional cooperation. In addition, possible steps taken by Russia away from sustainable development activities, for example, climate action, will weaken the state of sustainable development of the entire Arctic region. The state of the environment and climate know no national borders.  With the geopolitical situation, the green transition will become increasingly important at the national level, not only in terms of  climate and energy policy, but also for security policy and the security of supply.

Among the international Arctic cooperation mechanisms, the most important for Finland is the Arctic Council, where Russia currently holds the chairmanship. Seven Western member states have temporarily suspended their activities in the Arctic Council. The Barents Euro-Arctic Council has also suspended its cooperation with Russia. At the level of the bilateral agreements between Finland and Russia, there are still official contacts. Yet, in practice, the previous connections between Finnish Arctic actors and Russia are either severed, or just a shell remains. Russia is still involved in activities based on legal agreements and, for example, in UN organisations.

According to the report’s conclusions, Finland needs to adapt its operations to the realities of the new Cold War, where the international Arctic structures are fragmented. The time for a new comprehensive Arctic policy strategy will come once the situation stabilises. Regardless of the geopolitical situation, environmental and climate issues, sustainable development, and the status of indigenous peoples will still remain the key themes of the Arctic region. They are still needed as priorities for Finland’s Arctic activities.

Overall, the indirect effects of the Russian aggression on the Arctic region and the role of Finland in the region are significant. As the situation continues, this will also affect the structures of Arctic cooperation. For example, an operating model at the Nordic level should be developed for the growing cooperation needs in the northernmost regions of Finland, Sweden, and Norway.

Although Russia’s short-term development is exceedingly difficult to predict and, for example, research cooperation with Russia is interrupted, Finland still needs information on Russia's Arctic regions. In the longer term, it is in Finland’s interest to continue to build a functioning relationship with Russia. However, this must not happen at any cost. In the coming years, ensuring national security must be at the centre of Finland’s policy towards Russia. 

Research Professor Timo Koivurova was the scientific director for the report, and Head of Science Communication Markku Heikkilä coordinated the work. 

English Summary and conclusions

Whole report in Finnish language: VALTIONEUVOSTON SELVITYKSIÄ: Analyysi Venäjän hyökkäyssodan vaikutuksista

Research professor Timo Koivurova, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, tel. +358 40 551 9522, timo.koivurova@ulapland.fi and Head of Science communication Markku Heikkilä, Arctic Centre, University of Lapland, tel. +358 40 484 4300, markku.heikkila@ulapland.fi