U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on a diplomatic tour that includes his first face-to-face talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, has warned that Washington is concerned over a military buildup in the Arctic, a region gaining in strategic importance among the world's superpowers.
"We have concerns about some of the increased military activities in the Arctic that increase the...prospects of accidents...and undermine the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region," Blinken told reporters in Reykjavik on May 18, a day before the start of a meeting of the eight-member Arctic Council in Reykjavik.
"What we need to avoid is a militarization of the region," he added.
Heading into the trip, State Department spokesman Ned Price said Blinken will “advance efforts to sustain the Arctic as a region of peace, free of conflict, where Arctic Council members collaborate on shared priorities to protect the well-being of Arctic communities and address the ever-growing threat and impacts of the climate crisis.”
The meeting with Lavrov is scheduled to take place on May 20. The Russian Foreign Ministry has said the two will discuss "key issues of mutual relations and the international agenda."
A U.S. intelligence report in April said Moscow is looking to increase its economic and military footprint in the Arctic, taking advantage of global warming’s impact on the vast northern region.
"We've seen Russia advance unlawful maritime claims, particularly its regulation of foreign vessels transiting the Northern Sea route, which are inconsistent with international law," Blinken said at a joint briefing with Iceland's foreign minister on May 18.
Lavrov, however, on May 17 warned Western countries against staking claims in the Arctic.
"It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land," he said at a press conference in Moscow.
"We are responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe."
The meeting comes amid ongoing tensions between Washington and Moscow over Russia’s military buildup in and around Ukraine, Russian meddling in U.S. elections, and recent cyberattacks blamed on cybercriminals in Russia, and the official indicated that those matters would be addressed.
Blinken and Lavrov are expected to test the Biden administration's proposition of working on areas where Washington and Moscow have mutual interests.
At the end of his trip, Blinken plans to stop in Greenland to meet with the new head of government, Mute Bourup Egede.
The two are expected to discuss their countries’ shared commitment to increase cooperation in the Arctic.