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US aid to Greenland looks to counter Russian, Chinese influence in Arctic

Greenland Ice Sheet (Christine Zenino/WikiCommons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The United States will give $12 million in economic aid to Greenland and open a consulate on the island in a bid to strengthen mutual ties and counter growing Russian and Chinese interests in the Arctic.

Danish and U.S. officials jointly announced the financial and diplomatic package on April 23.

The United States said it would open its consulate in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, later this year. The aid package is aimed mostly at developing natural resources.

Greenland is an autonomous Arctic territory under Denmark. In recent years the vast, sparsely populated expanse of land has seen its profile raised amid Russian and Chinese commercial and military buildups in the Arctic.

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The region has seen an opening of new sea lanes due to warming caused by climate change, which in turn has created new commercial and military activity.

Greenland Prime Minister Kim Kielsen said the U.S. package was good news for the island and “confirms that our work in building a constructive relationship with the United States is bearing fruit.”

A senior State Department official said the United States had been working closely with Denmark for months on the initiative, adding that the United States was “in the process of adjusting our Arctic policy to today’s new strategic realities.”

President Donald Trump suggested last year that the United States considered buying Greenland. The idea was immediately rebuffed by Denmark, and the State Department official said the aid package was not designed to pave the way for such a purchase.

‘One-Two Punch’

Victoria Herrmann, president and managing director of The Arctic Institute think tank, said people working on Arctic diplomacy in the administration have changed their approach from “bombastic declarations to targeted development aid.”

In an e-mail response to questions from RFE/RL, she said the aid was a “one-two punch” aimed at economic and human development and shows China and Russia that “the Trump administration is interested in exerting U.S. soft power in the Arctic by funding education and natural resources.”

Though its consulate in Nuuk closed years ago, the United States has maintained a presence on Greenland through the Thule Air Base and investments in research projects on the environment and sustainable development.

But the United States “is woefully behind in investing in both Arctic strategic military assets and critical civilian infrastructure to increase quality of life and human development for the four million people that call the Arctic home,” Herrmann said, adding that she doesn’t see that changing with the announcement of aid.

Russia, meanwhile, has stepped up its military capabilities in the Arctic, while China calls itself a “near Arctic state” and has laid plans for a Polar Silk Road focused on new Arctic shipping routes and access to natural resources.

Prior to the announcement, the U.S. ambassador to Denmark, Carla Sands, wrote an opinion piece for the online publication Altinget in which she said the United States would be “the preferred partner in the Arctic.”

Sands also accused Russia of “aggressive behavior and increased militarization in the Arctic,” and China of pursuing “predatory economic interests” in Greenland.