Haavisto meets Russian foreign minister as Finland takes over Euro-Arctic presidency

Finland takes the reins of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in Norway at a tense moment in international relations.

Finland takes over the presidency of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council at a summit in Tromsø, northern Norway (file photo). Image: Rune Stoltz Bertinussen / EPA

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto (Green) meets with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday during a meeting of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council in Tromsø, northern Norway.

Haavisto holds talks with Lavrov just after meeting with Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg a day earlier in Helsinki. Also on Monday, Lavrov met with Norway's new foreign minister, Anniken Huitfeldt. Haavisto and Huitfeldt will also hold talks.

Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde, meanwhile, is not attending the Tromsø summit, opting instead to stay in Stockholm to meet with Stoltenberg and other Nato representatives.

The Haavisto-Lavrov negotiations come just days before Finnish President Sauli Niinistö meets his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday. Niinistö also holds talks with Estonia's new president, Alar Karis, on Tuesday.

Nato-Russia relations tense

Lavrov is on his first visit to a Nato member country since Russia said it would close its Nato mission in Brussels and Nato offices in Moscow.

That came in response to Nato's expulsion of members of the Russian delegation to Nato headquarters in Brussels. The military alliance said that the delegates were intelligence officers.

According to former Finnish foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva (NCP), who now chairs the Parliamentary Defence Committee, the deterioration of Nato-Russia relations represents a deterioration of Finland's security environment.

Finland plays a key role as Barents chair

At the meeting, Finland takes over the presidency of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) from Norway. The BEAC member states are the five Nordic countries, Russia and the EU. The presidency rotates every second year between Norway, Finland, Russia and Sweden.

Russia, meanwhile, is currently chairing the larger Arctic Council, which includes the five Nordic countries as well as Canada and the United States.

When Russia took over the presidency of the Arctic Council in May, Lavrov strongly criticised western activities in the Arctic.

"It's long been well known to everyone that this is our territory, this is our land, we are responsible for ensuring that our Arctic coast is safe. And everything our country does there is absolutely legal and legitimate," he said at the time.

Moscow has especially directed criticism toward Norway, which it considers to be allowing Nato into the Arctic region.

The tense international situation brings particular pressure to Finland's two-year presidency. As a non-Nato EU member state, Finland could act as a facilitator of dialogue between Russia and the West during its term.

Since the Ukraine crisis and related sanctions it brings, Arctic cooperation is one of the few forums where Russia and western countries still sit at the same negotiating tables.

The Finnish Presidency will be led by Ambassador to the Barents and Northern Dimension, Jari Vilén, a former NCP trade minister.