Russia’s Military Push Into the Arctic Approaching Soviet-era Levels

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Russia’s Military Push Into the Arctic Approaching Soviet-era Levels

Russia’s military presence around the Arctic has grown to levels not seen since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Reuters reports, prompting speculation that Moscow will soon possess greater capability and control in the strategic and resource-rich region than the Soviets ever had.

Writing from Murmansk in Russia’s extreme northwest, Andrew Osborn wrote on January 31:

[N]early three decades after the [nuclear-powered icebreaker vessel] Lenin was taken out of service to be turned into a visitor attraction, Russia is again on the march in the Arctic and building new nuclear icebreakers.It is part of a push to firm Moscow’s hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States and Norway ….Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is rushing to re-open abandoned Soviet military, air and radar bases on remote Arctic islands and to build new ones, as it pushes ahead with a claim to almost half a million square miles of the Arctic. …

In recent years, Russia has established four new Arctic brigade command units, 16 deepwater ports, a new Arctic command, and 14 operational airfields. It is either re-opening or constructing six military facilities. Moscow also has a fleet of around 40 icebreakers, with nearly a dozen more being constructed. The icebreaker fleet is significant because Russia is the only nation that possesses one. Icebreakers open channels for military and civilian ships to pass through. “The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers,” said United States Sen. Dan Sullivan. “Russia has superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”

Here is a glimpse of scale and complexity of Russia’s total Arctic build-up:

Back in the Soviet days, Moscow wielded more total firepower in the Arctic than it presently does. But the Soviet-era power was designed for nuclear warfare against America—not conventional war. The modern build-up is different in that it prioritizes what Osborn calls “a permanent and nimble conventional military presence.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. has few concrete plans to counter Russia’s increasing control of the Arctic region. Jim Townsend, the Pentagon’s former top Europe and nato official, said the region doesn’t fit tidily into Washington’s policymaking priorities. “Within the Pentagon, the Arctic as an issue … is a bit of an orphan,” he said.

Russia’s robust Arctic expansion has far-reaching implications, both geopolitically and financially. That is in large part because the Arctic is estimated to hold the equivalent of 412 billion barrels of natural gas and oil reserves, which amounts to 22 percent of estimated undiscovered total global hydrocarbon stocks.

With such reserves at stake, the build-up is viewed with concern by many global powers. Osborn said:

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told his confirmation hearing this month it was “not to our advantage to leave any part of the world” to others. Mattis, in a separate written submission, described Moscow’s Arctic moves as “aggressive steps” and pledged to prioritize developing a U.S. strategy ….The build-up is causing jitters elsewhere. Some 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway this month for a six-month deployment, the first time since World War ii that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there.And with memories of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea still fresh, nato is watching closely. Six of its members held an exercise in the region in 2015. …

In light of Russia’s expansionistic behavior into its periphery, including armed incursions into Georgia and the Ukraine, such concerns about the Arctic are well-founded. Besides potentially giving Russia exclusive access to capacious quantities of energy reserves in international waters, the Arctic build-up also grants Moscow multiple potential entry points into international waters. Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer said: “[I]f [U.S. President Donald] Trump’s would-be rapprochement with Russia goes south, things might first start getting hot up north.”

Back in October 2008, Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote about the implications of Russia’s military rise:

Russia’s attack on Georgia in August marks the beginning of a dangerous new era in history. This was the first military strike of a rising Asian superpower—and there will be more! … Russia is determined to be an energy superpower in an age when the whole modern world is hungry for energy. If Russia sees its primary source of oil being threatened, it is going to fight! … We have witnessed the beginning of a new era! We saw an extraordinary military strike by one of the kings of the east! And don’t forget China, another of those “kings.” It is making inroads all over the world. What power those kings of the east are amassing—and so quickly! Europe can see it! And it is formulating a counterstrategy. The whole world should see this developing and realize: This will inevitably end in nuclear war!

To understand more about this sobering trend and to know where it is leading, read Mr. Flurry’s article “Russia’s Attack Signals Dangerous New Era.”