Vernuccio’s View: Russia Militarizes the Arctic

Russia is engaging in new and extremely worrisome activities in the Arctic. According to The NATO Association’s Aleksi Korpela “This issue has become especially controversial in the last few years, as Russia has expanded its military infrastructure…”

A recent report has disclosed that Moscow has added to its overwhelming Arctic power. A facility on the Franz Josef Archipelago can now host nuclear-capable war planes.  According to the Daily Mail, Moscow’s new bases “will …give Moscow more military capabilities than the Soviet Union once had.”

Mark Galeotti has written in the Moscow Times that “Russia is using extortion in the Arctic…  Russia’s icebreaker fleet is a particular ‘ice-power’ asset: It is the world’s largest … This…begs the question of just what these forces are meant to do.”

The military newspaper Stars and Stripes reports that a new Russian Arctic command is under development, including four new Arctic brigades and 50 airfields, providing long-range air patrols by Russian bombers and a total of 40 conventional and nuclear icebreakers, with 11 more planned. The BBC  reports that Russia is developing a new regional naval infrastructure. In addition to a new air defense base on Sredniy Island, five island bases have been built by 1,500 workers – at Alexandra Land, Rogachevo, Cape Schmidt, Wrangel and Kotelny.

This was occurring as the United States was reducing its military spending under the Obama Administration. According to testimony given earlier this year by Admiral William Gortney, commander of U.S. Northern Command, “Russian heavy bombers flew more out-of-area patrols in 2014 than at any time since the Cold War… Russia recently launched another massive, five-day Arctic training event, involving 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 ships and submarines, and 110 aircraft.”

According to the Russian Foreign Ministry , Moscow  has claimed approximately 1.2 million square kilometers  of the Arctic, 350 nautical miles from the coast. The areas include the Lomonosov Ridge, Mendeleev-Alpha Rise and Chukchi Plateau.

Moscow’s military aircraft have flown provocatively close to Arctic-area territories belonging to NATO members.

According to Russia Direct, “Russia’s claims on …vast swaths of territory in the Arctic are reinforced by its ability to project force in the region. Its fleet of several dozens of icebreakers, including nuclear, as compared to America’s six icebreakers, [only one of which is truly Arctic-capable] gives Russia an economic and military advantage in the Arctic. The Deputy Prime Minister of Russia in charge of the defense industry, Dmitry Rogozin,stated that Russia has already launched the construction of a new nuclear icebreaker fleet and that three units will start their operations by 2017, 2019 and 2020, respectively.”

Business Insider notes: “In order to capitalize on the oil and gas under the Arctic seabed…Moscow is undertaking a major military upgrade of its northern coast and outlying archipelagos…In total, Moscow’s plans involve the opening of ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deep-water ports, 13 airfields, and 10 air-defense radar stations across its Arctic periphery.”

Newsweek  describes the situation as “…a new kind of geopolitical cold war, and the U.S. is in danger of losing. ‘We’re not even in the same league as Russia right now,’ Coast Guard Commandant Paul F. Zukunft says. ‘We’re not playing in this game at all.’ In the Arctic, the only way to move around on the surface of the sea in even thinner summer ice—to do search and rescue, lead other naval or commercial ships, or conduct heavy research—is often on icebreakers. The U.S. has only two, both old and ‘there’s no money for new icebreakers,’ reports Fran Ulmer, chair of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Ulmer says an icebreaker can cost up to a billion dollars, and ‘it takes years to get one built.’ Russia operates 27 icebreakers, and China, which is not an Arctic nation but has aspirations in the area, will have two by next year.”

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

Frank V. Vernuccio, Jr., J.D.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government 

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