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Washington Rallies Support Over Arctic Buildup; Moscow Worried Over Deployments In Norway

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken (center) arrives for the Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The United States and Russia have clashed over the military and economic development of the Arctic as the region deals with the effects of climate change.

At a meeting of Arctic Council foreign ministers in Reykjavik on May 20, Washington gathered support to curb Moscow's plans in its north as Russia assumes the council's rotating chairmanship.

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the group should continue to focus on environmental issues, maritime safety, and the well-being of indigenous people in the region.

For its part, Russia is looking to set maritime rules in the Northern Sea Route, which runs from Norway to Alaska, resume high-level military talks within the eight-nation bloc after they were suspended in 2014 over Russia's annexation of Ukraine.

Blinken stressed the importance of upholding “effective governance and the rule of law” to ensure that the “Arctic remains a region free of conflict where countries act responsibly.” The United States already questioned the legality of the proposed Russian maritime rules and expressed deep reservations about Russia's military activity in the far North.

Several other foreign ministers, including those from Canada, Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden, echoed Blinken's call to keep the Arctic peaceful and free of conflict under the authority of international, rather than that of individual countries. Representatives of indigenous Arctic populations urged that their voices be heard.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow was worried about the deployment of foreign troops in Norway, near the Russian border, and questioned NATO's motives in deployments of bombers and submarines to the area.

"We are concerned about what is going on close to our border with Norway," Lavrov told a news conference after the meeting.

NATO-member Norway, which shares a short border with Russia, last month gave the United States permission to build facilities at three Norwegian airfields and one naval base.

"Our neighbor Norway, which never had the principle of permanent presence of foreign military, has decided to amend its legislation," Lavrov said.

Earlier this week, he said the Arctic “is our territory, our land" and had questioned NATO's motives in deployments of bombers and submarines to the area. On May 20, he said the resumption of an Arctic Council military dialogue would contribute to stability.

Besides maneuvering for position in the Arctic, Russia and the West have multiple issues dividing them -- including Moscow’s military buildup in and around Ukraine, Moscow's treatment of opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project through Europe, and U.S. accusations of Russian cyberwarfare and interference in Western electoral processes.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and TASS
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