Two countries that often find themselves on opposite sides of issues find common ground above the Arctic Circle, says Canadian minister
John Baird, Canada’s foreign affairs minister, often finds himself disagreeing with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, over major issues. When it comes to gay rights, for example, Mr Baird has been an outspoken critic of what he called Russia’s anti-gay policies. But when it comes to the Arctic, he said the two countries are getting along just fine.
“On the Arctic and other issues, we can and have worked well,” Mr Baird said in a recent interview on Canadian television. “I have a professional relationship with my Russian counterpart.”
While the two men do not agree on every issue, Mr Baird called Mr Lavrov “a smart, experienced and effective foreign minister for his government”.
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The praise for his counterpart’s handling of Arctic issues is in sharp contrast to his public condemnation of Russia’s anti-gay stance and a Russian law that bans Canadian adoptions because same-sex marriage is legal in Canada. The differences between the two countries have become more striking as the 2014 Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia, approach.
Mr Baird’s more measured approach to co-operating with Russia in the Arctic fits in with the agenda set by Stephen Harper, Canada’s PM, to develop the country’s untapped northern economic potential, including vast deposits of undiscovered oil and gas.
That agenda makes Canada and Russia allies, albeit occasionally uncomfortable ones, if for no other reason than that they are both members of the Arctic Council, the eight-country regional body which Canada will chair for the next two years.
Despite Mr Baird’s assertion that the two countries can co-operate, things can still get a bit testy between the two countries. After Canada staked its claim last month with the United Nations for a large section of the Atlantic seabed and the Arctic Ocean, Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, countered by assigning more military assets to the country’s northern regions.
Mr Baird responded to Mr Putin’s moves diplomatically, stating that Canada would “continue our co-operation with our partners in the Arctic, as a responsible neighbour should”.
Originally published by The Arctic Journal. Re-published here with the permission of the author.
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