Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 464

  Commentary BARENTS COOPERATION IN WINDS OF CHANGE Thomas Nilsen The head of the Barents Regional Council, Arkhangelsk Governor Igor Orlov, told his Oblast government in September 2014 that complicated geopolitics should not affect Barents Cooperation. This cooperation is beyond big politics, Orlov argued. Traveling the Barents Region after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea Peninsula in March, and meeting the different official players, the organizations and people in the Russian north, it is easy to see that the Arkhangelsk Governor has a good argument. More than 20 years of people-topeople relations across borders can’t be torn down overnight. Despite a way colder political climate between the trio of Stockholm, Helsinki and Oslo towards Kremlin’s rule of Putin in Moscow, the contacts between regional capitals like Murmansk, Rovaniemi, Tromsø and Luleå goes on. So do the non-governmental networks. In Europe, Brussels has encouraged regional cross-border (CBC) programs not to be affected by sanctions. In Norway, the Government says the importance of regional and civil society interactions with Russia in the north will continue to be supported. The Barents cooperation serves as an open door in times of challenging geopolitical troubles. Normal peoples’ travel and contacts will never cause any harm; rather it serves to facilitate dialogue and minimize potential misunderstandings between countries. Established in 1993, the Barents Euro-Arctic Council (BEAC) was built in a Post-Soviet period full of confidence with a common belief that promoting people-to-people contacts would contribute to economic, cultural, social and peaceful development in the northernmost part of Europe. Today, no doubt, the Barents cooperation itself has proven to be one of the most successful cross-border cooperation areas in any Russian border region. A generation of friendly Thomas Nilsen is the Editor of BarentsObserver.com, a news portal serving the Barents Region and the European Arctic. He is also an advisor with the Norwegian Barents Secretariat.