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Russia Moves to Protect its Interests in the Arctic

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird in an interview with a Danish newspaper reported by Russia Today said his country is ready to confront Russia in the Arctic if Russia expands its ambitions there. 

However in reality Russia is merely protecting its interests in the Arctic so concerns about its ambitions are unwarranted.

Russia has been active in the Arctic recently. The country reactivated a Soviet-era base on Novosibirsk Archipelago off the north-eastern coast of Canada, and projected four bombers Sukhoi-34 to the North Pole recently.  The Russian warship “Gelowani” hoisted the Russian flag on Wrangel Island between the Chukchi Sea and East Siberian Sea near Alaska where the Russia Pacific Fleet is based.

The military has always been Russia’s favored tool to assert its sovereignty and defend its national borders.   However Russia is not the only country to increase its military presence in the Arctic.  In July 2013, Norway conducted large scale Arctic exercises in which more than 16000 troops from 14 countries are believed to have been involved.  The US also is sending more paratroopers to the Arctic.

The Arctic’s strategic importance is due to vast untapped natural resources – mostly oil and gas (13% of the world’s oil reserves and 30% of its gas) – but also abundant fisheries and potentially shorter trading routes offering new opportunities for trade and economic development.

Russia does have an active Arctic strategy, but active does not inevitably mean aggressive. Russia is the largest Arctic coastal state with about 14000 km2 of coastlines.  The bulk of gas reserves are located in its territory. Russia’s objective in the region is first and foremost to protect its national interests.

Whilst the Arctic today does represent a new arena for competition it also offers opportunities for cooperation.  Russia is willing to enhance dialogue over the region to make the Arctic a zone of peaceful development and cooperation. As Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in order to soothe his Canadian counterpart: “we don’t want the Artic to become an arena of conflict”.




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