Canada’s foreign minister is joining her Russian and U.S. counterparts Thursday for an intimate gathering to discuss environmental concerns in the north.
But the conversations on the sidelines of the Arctic Council meeting will likely be of great interest, given the growing political tensions between the three largest participants.
Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are among the eight political representatives attending the meeting in Fairbanks, Alaska.
The sit-down comes at a time of growing international instability.
A government source with direct knowledge of the summit said Canada is keen to stick to the issues on the agenda, but acknowledged there will likely be opportunities for “real conversations” in private on other topics.
Tensions in the room
The ongoing investigation of Russian involvement in the U.S. election could easily become a source of friction in Alaska, but there are also concerns involving Canada that could emerge.
Ottawa’s relationship with Moscow certainly hasn’t grown cozier in the wake of Freeland’s appointment as foreign minister.
In March, she was targeted in a smear campaign appearing on pro-Russian websites that link her grandfather to Nazi Germany. When asked about the articles, Freeland warned Canada should be prepared for Russian attempts to destabilize its democracy.
Before she even took on the role, she was already subject to Russian sanctions, which ban her from travelling to the country. In 2014, Russia announced a series of retaliatory measures against Canadian officials after Canada levelled sanctions against Russia for its actions in Crimea.
Freeland and Lavrov have crossed paths before, but never in such close quarters.
Meanwhile, the Canada-U.S. relationship has changed dramatically. Since Donald Trump took office, Ottawa launched an intensive charm offensive to ensure key aspects of the Canada-U.S. relationship, like trade, continue to thrive.
Despite those efforts, Canada has been on the receiving end of Trump’s anti-trade rhetoric.
One former Canadian diplomat is urging Freeland to hold frank discussions in private with her counterparts, to speak to some of these growing issues.
“Often the most important part of these are not what’s discussed in a public roundtable … it’s what takes place in the corridor, that’s what counts,” said Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat.
Softwood and hacking
Robertson expects Freeland to seek out a private discussion with Tillerson, to address the ongoing softwood lumber dispute. Canada is threatening multiple trade actions against the U.S. in response to new duties imposed on Canadian softwood.
“I think she’ll ask for a…