Russia wants to retain arctic superpower status, expert says

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Image from NASA

Russia’s ambition to remain the Arctic superpower propels all of its efforts to protect its economic interests there with sweeping land claims on waterways and continued military build-up in a region often overlooked by the United States. , said an arctic defense and security expert. Wednesday.

Troy Bouffard, director of the Arctic Security and Defense Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said President Vladimir Putin “has really changed [Russia’s] approach to international development ”and sees the Arctic playing a key role in Moscow’s return as a great power.

At the same time, warming Arctic waters are opening up the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage to longer shipping seasons, making the waters factors for military and commercial planners in Washington, Moscow and Beijing.

But Russia has the biggest territorial claims in the Arctic, and it also sees the region as key to its future growth.

“Oil has put Russia back on the map” as a nation of importance, Bouffard said, and energy sales remain essential to its economy.

“Natural gas is king right now,” especially liquefied natural gas from the Arctic because “that’s what is marketable” and what China and Europe need. He added that mining and fishing in the Far North complements the exploration and sales of energy that helps Moscow’s economy, despite the sanctions imposed on it after the capture of Crimea in 2014 and continued support for separatists in Ukraine.

To strengthen its arctic territorial claims on the Northern Sea Route – which turns out to be the most accessible route for trade between Asia and Europe – and restore its status as a military power, Bouffard Russia is spending 5 to 6% of its product on defense.

He cited the July release of the Kremlin’s national security strategy as a statement that “they’re sort of back” when it comes to international affairs, demanding a voice and a place at the table when ‘He believes that Moscow’s interests are at stake because they are in the Arctic.

The report was released shortly after Moscow assumed the chairmanship of the eight-member Arctic Council. Although the council does not engage in military or security discussions, it is a forum for international cooperation on the environment, dealing with emergencies ranging from search and rescue to the provision of assistance. humanitarian and disaster relief and the protection of the rights of indigenous peoples of the Arctic.

In the document, Bouffard said the Russians “understand that NATO is their biggest challenge” from the Arctic to the Baltic and Black Seas.

When Putin and the Russian leadership examine the Arctic, they see seven other nations with territorial claims that are either in NATO or with partners like Finland and Sweden.

As a result of its vision of the Arctic as an economic engine of growth, Moscow “has done a better job of building infrastructure”, ranging from expanding its fleet of icebreakers to modernizing ports and the intensification of the military presence in specially designed “arctic shamrocks”. “Military bases to support its claims on the Northern Sea Route,” Bouffard and other speakers said at the forum.

Shamrocks are designed to support military operations in extreme weather conditions in the Arctic.

Bouffard added that one of the last Russian icebreakers, operating under the equivalent of its coast guard, is armed with missiles. He is “not going to escort tankers” along the Northern Sea Route.

Russia plans to expand its current fleet of more than 50 icebreakers to include a “flotilla” of nuclear-powered ships by 2030 to keep the Northern Sea Route open for a longer shipping season.

This emphasis on defending what the Kremlin sees as its own territory has resulted in Russia building 10 dual-use coast stations along the Northern Sea Route. In addition, it has reopened or built airfields with S-400 air defense systems and modernized ports, often with Chinese investments to accelerate exports of liquefied natural gas. But airfields also have a military purpose, if necessary.

Although Moscow has not built artificial islands in the Arctic like Beijing has in the South China Sea, Bouffard said it has increased its military presence on the natural islands in the waterway. “The islands offer great potential for sensors,” he added, as well as land for facilities to house air, ground and naval forces.

Others in the forum suggested that the Kremlin might consider installing underwater missiles or torpedo pods to ensure control of waterways in the High North. For two years, the Kremlin has demanded that non-Russian warships using the Northern Sea Route embark Russian pilots. The position of the United States on the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage is that both are straits, like that of Gibraltar, and international waterways.

Russian icebreaker Yamal. Russian Navy photo

Now assessing Russia’s land forces in the Arctic, Bouffard said they are “way ahead of us now” in training under these conditions. In addition, these ground forces are also touring for training within Russia’s borders and abroad. He included Syria as a training ground for Russian ground forces in the development of new operational concepts for unmanned aerial systems and electronic warfare in a real environment. He said “we will be there” as the United States and NATO have stepped up their training in the Arctic to meet Russian challenges.

Responding to a question, Bouffard said the modernized ballistic missile submarine force of Russia’s Northern Fleet has caused NATO to again consider the Greenland-Iceland-UK “divide” as a contested region. in a potential conflict.

Previously, he noted that after the collapse of the Soviet Union and before Putin became president, the only military force that was consistently funded was the Northern Fleet. Since then, the military commands of naval, air and land forces centered on Murmansk have been expanded and modernized.

For the Northern Fleet, this includes the addition of new attack submarines and ballistic missiles and the adoption of advanced submarine technologies that threaten the North Atlantic link between the United States and Canada and their forces. NATO allies in the event of conflict.

“The security landscape [in the Arctic] becomes more difficult, ”said Ine Ericksen Soreide, Norway’s Foreign Minister, said earlier this year in Washington, reflecting on the Kremlin’s military modernization program and its new strategy seeing itself as a great power.


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