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Indigenous Russians may lose Arctic Council association

Katie Medred

The Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North, Siberia and the Far East (RAIPON), Russia's largest indigenous rights group and one of six indigenous Permanent Participants on the world's Arctic Council, is in serious danger of being permanently dissolved.

The non-governmental organization has received an official six-month "activities suspension order" from Russia's Ministry of Justice restricting the group from protesting or gathering.

According to the Barents Observer, the Russian government asked the indigenous umbrella group to suspend operations after the federal Ministry of Justice accused the organization of noncompliance with federal law. The environmental organization Greenpeace, claims the ban limits RAIPON's ability to congregate in any capacity, including emergency meetings of the sort that may come in handy during trying times.

Rodion Sulyandziga, RAIPON's first vice president, told the French news agency AFP, "This is a political decision. They want to remove us as a barrier and active participant in international law."

RAIPON represents an estimated 30,000 indigenous people and 41 member groups throughout Russia and, in some cases, is the only mouthpiece for indigenous Russians.

Over the years, RAIPON has dissapproved of Russian policies, including the government's attitude toward Arctic and other indigenous people, and criticized some of the country's major energy companies, like Gazpom, but RAIPON was alarmed to land in the line of fire. Sulyandziga told AFP, "We have used our charter for 22 years, and there were never any problems. They are trying to tell us to stop our criticism."

Russia has steadily been increasing energy efforts in the Arctic. Russia's state-owned gas company Gazprom, for example, recently launched commercial production at the giant Bovanenkovo gas field and is in the process of sending the first fully loaded LNG tanker through the Northern Sea Route.

Because of the suspension, RAIPON has stopped all international projects, but the association isn't going to give up without a fight. RAIPON plans to appeal the ministry's decision. However, if the appeal is unsuccessful, RAIPON will be ordered to completely shut down operations within six months, leaving the indigenous people of Russia's Arctic without a voice on the Arctic Council.

The association posted an open letter on Wednesday calling on Arctic Council members Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United States to denouce the actions taken by Russia.

For more information visit the Barents Observer or RAIPON's website here.

Contact Katie Medred at katie(at)alaskadispatch.com