ZOiS Report 1/2024

New Arctic Realities: Between Conflicting Interests and Avenues for Cooperation

Russia’s war against Ukraine has significantly impacted governance and international cooperation in the Arctic. Since February 2022 Western Arctic states have suspended most multilateral economic and scientific cooperation with Russia, and the Arctic Council, the region’s key intergovernmental forum, is currently unable to fulfil its role as an interface between science and politics. The resulting collapse of pan-Arctic climate research and environmental protection could have drastic consequences in the long term. Increased militarisation and resource extraction also have implications for security and stability in the region. Geopolitical tensions and a narrow focus on strategic interests may result in spillover effects on the Arctic region and further disregard for the concerns of indigenous populations. While the Arctic Council grapples with its current restraints, other cooperative frameworks, especially legally binding agreements, remain relevant. As well as looking at the practical consequences of the war for cooperation within the Arctic Council and beyond, this report analyses its effects on long-term Arctic dynamics and discusses possible ways of dealing with current challenges multilaterally without legimitising Russian aggression.

These are the main findings and recommendations:

  • Rising political and military tensions in the Arctic predate the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and stem from Russia’s assertion of its perceived security needs in the region.
  • While previously not a major concern, the security dilemma in the region has become more salient since February 2022. The war in Ukraine has exposed the limits of Russia’s conventional military capabilities. It is now hard pressed to realise its great power ambitions in the Arctic, but the potential for military escalation in the region is likely to remain low.
  • To manage nuclear deterrence and reduce the risk of an unintended escalation, an Arctic Military Code of Conduct should be drawn up. In the meantime, existing bilateral treaties from the Cold War era on crisis communication and the prevention of military escalation should be reactivated.
  • In the field of energy politics, the bifurcation of the Arctic into a Russian-Asian Arctic and a European and North American Arctic is becoming apparent. When Western sanctions led some Western firms to disengage from the Russian energy market, Russia looked to non-Western countries like India and China for the investment, skilled labour and technology it requires to realise important energy projects in the Arctic. For Western Arctic states, energy independence from Russia was a priority, and Norway has become the EU’s main gas supplier. In a two-pronged strategy necessitated by the war, these states are continuing to develop fossil fuels while also supporting renewable energy projects.
  • Science cooperation in the Arctic has fallen victim to the war in Ukraine. Data exchange between Russian and Western climate researchers is severely curtailed. The consequences of this could be devastating: Arctic warming is an important indicator for global climate developments, and without data exchange it will be impossible to model the broader impacts of climate change. Given the urgency of the climate crisis, every effort should be made to facilitate data exchange beyond official state channels, for example by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) or the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).
  • Even before February 2022, Arctic indigenous populations were a particularly vulnerable segment of the Arctic population. Their problems have now been compounded by the war in Ukraine. With the paralysis of the Arctic Council, they have lost their main platform for multilateral engagement in the region. They are also feeling the effects of war-related inflation, energy supply issues and interrupted supply chains. Indigenous communities in the Russian Arctic have been a particular focus of Russia’s recruitment policy, with the result that a disproportionately high number of men from these communities have died in Ukraine.
  • The breakdown in relations between Russia and Western Arctic states has left the Arctic Council unable to fulfil its research mandate and act as an interface between science and politics. There is a consensus among the seven Western Arctic states that some level of collaboration with Russia is still necessary. Under Norway’s chairship, technical and scientific cooperation at working-group level has been resumed with Russian scientists.

This ZOiS report is based on a workshop that took place online on 24 April 2023 as part of the BMBF-funded KonKoop network.



  • Serafima Andreeva, Researcher, Fridtjof Nansens Institute, Oslo
  • Klaus Dodds, Professor of Geopolitics, Executive Dean for the School of Life Sciences and Environment at Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Nadja Douglas, Researcher, ZOiS Berlin
  • Christoph Humrich, Assistant Professor for International Relations and Security, University of Groningen
  • Thomas Nawrath, former Student Assistant, ZOiS Berlin