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Trudeau off to Iceland to meet Nordic leaders ahead of NATO, amid Arctic uncertainty

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on his way to meet with Nordic leaders ahead of an upcoming NATO summit and as uncertainty looms over the future of the Arctic.

Trudeau is travelling to Iceland, which will host leaders from Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway over the next two days for an annual gathering of Nordic prime ministers.

Leaders from Greenland, the Faroe Islands and the Åland Islands are also attending.

Iceland’s government says “societal resilience” will be discussed at the meeting, which is being staged on a group of islands known as Vestmannaeyjar and coincides with the 50th anniversary of a volcanic eruption there.

Trudeau is to appear as a guest, and his office says it is a chance to advance common interests with the Nordic nations, which range from protecting the environment and developing clean energy to tackling security challenges.

The talks come a little more than two weeks before leaders travel to Lithuania to meet with NATO allies and discuss Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in February 2022.

World leaders also kept a watchful eye on internal strife in Russia this weekend after mercenary chief Yevgeny Prigozhin led troops from his private Wagner Group in an armed rebellion as he called for the ouster of the country’s defence minister.

The move seemed poised to threaten President Vladimir Putin’s decades-long hold on power, but tensions de-escalated quickly on Saturday after the Kremlin announced a deal that halted Prigozhin’s march on the capital city of Moscow. The arrangement will see Putin’s one-time protege move to Belarus and avoid prosecution for his role in the short-lived rebellion, while Wagner Group troops will return to Ukraine where they’ve been fighting alongside soldiers from the Russian army.

Trudeau said Saturday that Canada would be monitoring the situation closely, and foreign affairs ministers from the G7 held a call to discuss the situation before the deal was announced.

“There’s ongoing co-operation among these countries,” Roland Paris, a former senior adviser to Trudeau and director of the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, said of the leaders gathering in Iceland. “The Arctic has become a strategically more important part of the world as the ice melts.

“Each of these northern countries has a very clear interest in ensuring the security and sovereignty of their territory.”

Nordic countries, including Canada and the United States, hit pause on working with Russia through the Arctic Council after its invasion of Ukraine.

That has thrown what co-operation looks like in the region into serious question, Paris said.

Observatory for Arctic Policy and Security director Mathieu Landriault said the issue remains “fragile,” adding that without co-operation with Russia — which has a huge Arctic coastline — the council does not have data related to how climate change is affecting a major part of the region.

Landriault suggested that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has caused Canada to “reassess” its position in the Arctic.

NATO has also been paying increasing attention to the Arctic in light of aggression from both Russia and China, Paris added.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg warned of such threats during a visit to a military base in northern Alberta last summer, noting China has declared itself a “near Arctic” state and climate change was opening up access to the region.

Trudeau, who accompanied Stoltenberg on that visit, touted plans to spend billions on bolstering Canada’s military, including modernizing the aging Canada-U.S. Norad system which monitors Arctic aerospace.

Paris said he expects Trudeau may draw attention to those same commitments during his visit to Iceland.

“The fact is we are far behind where we need to be in order to secure the Arctic in a world where it will increasingly be an area of geopolitical competition.”

Iceland, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Norway have all voiced support for Ukraine since Russia launched its attack.

All belong to NATO, save for Sweden, which is trying to join. Canada was the first country to ratify its request. It also backed Finland’s membership, which was officially recognized in April.

Landriault said the meeting in Iceland serves as a chance for Canada and the Nordic countries to demonstrate support for Sweden’s entry into NATO, which Turkey and Hungary have not endorsed.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke with the Nordic leaders in May, and Trudeau made a surprise visit to Kyiv earlier this month.

Besides a shared interest in security, the Canadian government also has trade interests with the five Nordic countries, with two-way trade totalling roughly $13 billion last year.

Canada is also home to the largest number of Icelandic immigrants and descendants outside that country.

The two countries view each other as like-minded and share interests on a range of issues, including the development of carbon capture and storage technology and ocean protection.

Trudeau’s visit follows Iceland President Guðni Th. Jóhannesson’s recent visit to Canada, where the pair discussed expanding co-operation in green energy, ocean technology and aquaculture.

That trip, Gov. Gen. Mary Simon’s visit to Finland earlier this year and a 2022 Canada-Denmark agreement to resolve the border dispute over Hans Island were all signs that Canada was looking to enhance its diplomatic focus on Nordic countries, said Landriault.

“It’s likely to increase,” he said.

Source: CTV News

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