By Gwladys Fouche
OSLO (Reuters) – The United States on Friday opened its northernmost diplomatic station, highlighting the increased importance of the Arctic region for Washington at a time when cooperation among Arctic nations has been hit by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the opening of the station, in Tromsoe, Norway, in June, as a means for the United States to have a “diplomatic footprint above the Arctic Circle”.
“Symbolically, it is significant,” Andreas Oesthagen, a senior research fellow at the Oslo-based Fridtjof Nansen Institute, told Reuters on Tuesday.
“It is a gesture that showcases just how much more important the US sees the Arctic now than only five or ten years ago.”
Tromsoe is the largest city in Arctic Norway, located about 400km (250 miles) west of Russia. Norway and Russia share a border in the Arctic.
During the Cold War, Washington had a station in Tromsoe but closed it in 1994.
Called a “presence post”, the station will not offer consular services.
It will have one diplomat, whose work will focus on business outreach, science and the Arctic Council, a polar body comprising the eight Arctic states of Russia, the U.S., Canada, Finland, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Denmark.
The post will be housed in the same building as the Arctic Council’s secretariat.
Cooperation within the Council between Russia and the Western Arctic states was put on hold after Ukraine was invaded in February 2022.
Some cooperation with Russia has resumed since Norway took over as Council chair in May, but this remains limited to contact between diplomats.
Marc Nathanson, the U.S. ambassador to Norway, said Washington believed “very strongly” the council should remain the main body for cooperation in the Arctic.
“The Arctic Council must survive,” he told Reuters. “But because of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine it means, for the seven other members of the Arctic Council, that we can’t do business as usual with Russia.”
The U.S. post will be “non-military,” Nathanson added. It is “for cooperation for a peaceful, scientific-based, diplomacy”.
(Reporting by Gwladys Fouche, editing by Terje Solsvik and Deborah Kyvrikosaios)