Russia considers North Pole camp, international expeditions as it readies to chair Arctic Council

Several ambitious ideas came from Swedish billionaire Frederik Paulsen, who sits of the board of the Russian Geographical Society.

By Atle Staalesen, The Independent Barents Observer - April 16, 2021
Frederik Paulsen (right) is member of the Presidium of the Russian Geographical Society. ( via The Independent Barents Observer)

As Russia prepares to assume the rotating chair of the Arctic Council, the Russian Geographical Society heard proposals for several major Arctic projects, including a North Pole ice camp that could host Arctic Council delegates and a circumpolar expedition, during an online meeting this week.

Russia’s upcoming chairmanship of the Arctic Council provides an opportunity to strengthen our country’s role as coordinator and initiator of many programs in the region, said Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, who serves as president of the Geographical Society, and chaired the meeting, which was also attended by President Vladimir Putin.

The society’s supervisory board includes a number of prominent representatives of Russian business and state structures, as well as several foreign members, including CEO of BP Bernhard Looney, co-founder and former executive chairman of Alibaba Group Jack Ma, and Swedish billionaire businessman Frederik Paulsen. All of the three participated in this week’s meeting.

The Geographical Society has over the past years strengthened its role as facilitator of high-profile research initiatives and expeditions, often in close cooperation with the Ministry of Defense and other top government structures.

Among the most active member of the society’s supervisory board is Paulsen, the Swedish businessman who has made a fortune with his company Ferring Pharmaceuticals.

According to Paulsen, Russia should now take the initiative to organize an international circumpolar voyage that includes visits to all the archipelagos of the Arctic. He also proposes to organize an ice camp on the North Pole that can host international visits, including delegations from the Arctic Council states.

In addition, Paulsen wants Moscow during the upcoming chairmanship to host an international conference devoted to the 160 years anniversary of Fridtjof Nansen’s birth.

“After all, as you know, Nansen was himself a member of the Russian Geographical Society,” the Swedish businessman said.

Paulsen is known not only as one of the richest men in Sweden, but also as as participant in several expeditions in Russia. In 2007, he descended to the bottom of the Arctic Ocean together with explorers Artur Chilingarov and Mike McDowell, and in 2010 he and François Bernard were the first to cross the Bering Strait from America to Russia in an ultralight aircraft. Earlier this week, the Arctic Circle Assembly announced a climate action award named for him.

The Swedish businessman, who now resides in Switzerland, has also in previous presidium meetings in the Russian Geographical Society proposed extraordinary expeditions.

In 2019, he suggested that Russian research vessel Akademik Treshnikov escorted by nuclear-powered icebreaker 50 Let Pobedy conduct a unique voyage north of Greenland and through the Nares Strait, a transcript from the meeting reads.

President Putin positively responded to the initiatives proposed by Paulsen.

“I clearly support what has been said,” Putin responded, and added that he will request the federal government to elaborate on the proposals. “Despite the complications that we today experience on the international arena, the Arctic studies and attention to the Arctic will remain unchanged.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov officially takes over the two-year rotating chair from Iceland in May. The Arctic Council includes eight states, six Permanent Participants representing the region’s Indigenous peoples and 38 observers.