Friday, August 19, 2011

Russia: The “New Look” Faces North (Part Five)

By Jacob W. Kipp

The following is Part Five of a five part series on the Russian efforts to stake a strategic claim on the Arctic region.

Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Read Part Three here.
Read Part Four here.

Further proof that the Arctic was emerging as an area of economic and military competition appeared just days ago. On July 5, the Russian atomic icebreaker Rossiia and the research vessel, Akademik Fedorov, sailed from Murmansk to undertake a second year of seismic prospecting to establish Russia’s claim to the Lomonosov and Medvedev Ridges (“Arctic shelf prospecting in view of global warming,” The Voice of Russia, 21 July 2011). On July 11, the giant Russian mineral and chemical company EuroChem announced that two bulk ore carriers, the Mikhail Kutuzov and Dmitri Pozharskii, were leaving Murmansk under the escort of a Russian atomic icebreaker, and would sail the Northern Sea Route to deliver 40,000 tons of iron ore concentrate to the North China port of Xingang with an estimated sailing time of 25-28 days. EuroChem expects to expand iron ore experts to China to millions of tons over the next few years (“EvroKhim otpravil dva sudna s produktsiei v Kitai po Severnomu morskomu puty,” FK Novosti, 20 July 2011). On the same day, the press reported that Russia’s United Shipbuilding Corporation would embark on the construction of six new icebreakers – three atomic-powered and three diesel-electric powered. The vessels will be built in Russia and Finland, with hulls constructed at the Admiralty Yards in St. Petersburg – the final work done at the Arctech Shipyard in Helsinki, a Joint venture of Russia's United Shipbuilding Corporation and the South Korean Shipbuilding Giant STX (Aleskei Mikhailov, “Nov ledokol na dorog,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 20 July 2011).

The collaboration of United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC) and STX has, of course, another connection: the joint Franco-Russian project to build fur Mistral-class amphibious assault ships, two in France and two in Russia, with the USC and STX being involved. USC President Roman Trotsenko has recently said that Russia could build an atomic-powered aircraft carrier and have it operational by 2023, a claim, which Minister of Defense Serdiukov denied, saying Russia had no intention of building such ships. Trotsenko’s statement set off an immediate response in China, where PLA naval officers spoke of the great utility of aircraft carriers to strengthen Russian influence there. Il’ia Kramnik, military correspondent for RIA Novosti, suggested that the Chinese enthusiasm reflected an attempt at strategic misdirection. The Chinese understand that aircraft carriers remain a major card in command of the sea. Like Kaiser Wilhelm II, who encouraged Russian naval development in the Pacific to complicate British plans to deal with his “Atlantic Fleet,” Beijing wants nothing more than to ensure US Carrier task forces are deployed across the globe, thus reducing the prospect of a major concentration in the Asian-Pacific Region to challenge Chinese interests. Along this line of thinking, Russian carriers in the Arctic will demand an American response, representing one more area for US-Russian tensions, drawing Russia closer to China and at the same time reducing US naval presence in the Western Pacific. Strengthening Russia in the Arctic is needed by China to achieve the two goals that Germany had at the beginning of the 20th Century. First, this will provoke a rapid response from the global leader (the US), which will find it necessary to strengthen its own forces there. Second, the neighbor (Russia) will be deflected from the key region and shift its efforts further, untying Beijing’s hands just as it was suppose to do for Berlin a century ago. While Russia should protect its interests in the Arctic, the author argues that it should not fall prey to “dangerous illusions” and provoke an armed confrontation with the US and NATO (Il’ia Kramnik, “Mirovoi balanc i novye avianostsy,” Voenno-promyshlennyi kur’er, 20 July 2011).

All these developments point to Russia’s Arctic engagement as an expected part of emerging competition for resources and economic advantage. The deployment of two brigades would enhance credible military presence to back geo-political claims. But there is no reason at this stage to respond with an arms race in the Far North, which would mean another area of US-NATO and Russian conflict and might serve the interests of another power with a different geo-strategic focus and long-range strategy. While Arctic warming has been seen as a blessing in terms of development opportunities, it is important to keep in mind that there will also be negative impacts on existing settlements and facilities as sea levels rise and the permafrost becomes more unstable. Recent reports from the Ministry of Extraordinary Situations have placed the possible loss of permafrost by 2050 at 15-30 percent. Andrei Bolov, the head of the Ministry’s Department for Monitoring Disasters, stated: “The negative impact of permafrost degradation on all above-ground transportation infrastructure is clear” (“Russia May Lose 30% of Its Permafrost by 2050,” RIA Novosti, 28 July 2011). Indeed, available evidence suggests that climactic changes in the Arctic are moving very fast, with the northern sea route now much more open to navigation. Russia’s Federal Hydro-Meteorological and Environmental Monitoring Service announced that ice fields this year are down by 56 percent, in some areas making navigation possible through September this year. Global warning seems to be having even more impact in the Arctic than in other regions of the globe (Maria Kolesnikova, “Arctic Ice Melt at Near Record Clears Shipping Route to Asia, Russia Says,” Bloomberg, 3 August 2011).

Recent press reports claim that the Federal Security Service (FSB) will have a leading role in the defense of the Arctic, which is supposed to become the “leading strategic resource base of the Russian Federation by 2016.” Denis Terent’ev, reporting for Argumenty nedeli, says that this force will include a regiment of naval infantry in Murmansk and the motorized rifle brigade in Pechenga, with a combined strength of 10-12,000 men, who will join the recently expanded FSB border guard units of 6-7,000 men. These units will enjoy the support of the North Fleet, which has a strength of 45-50,000 men and is the largest naval force of the Russian Federation. Nikolai Patrushev, former head of the FSB and now Secretary of the Security Council, says that the force will be led by a joint command and will be equipped with weapons and technology for operations in the Arctic, including new icebreakers. There are as yet no estimates on the costs of these efforts, but the resource base in the far north, which includes an estimated 7 percent of the world’s oil reserves and two thirds of its reserves of natural gas, will fully justify these expenditures as competition for the Arctic increases. All of the powers contending for dominion in the north are building icebreakers. China, South Korea, and Great Britain are training their special forces for “the struggle with terrorists in the Arctic,” and the US is increasing its naval presence in the region. Terent’ev says that while war in the Arctic appears unlikely, there is good reason for the FSB to expand its presence to support Russian interests and influence where private firms invest in the development of the Arctic Shelf (Denis Terent’ev, “Snezhnye voiny FSB,” Argumenty nedeli, 10 August 2011).

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Russia: The “New Look” Faces North (Part Four)

By Jacob W. Kipp

The following is Part Four of a five part series on the Russian efforts to stake a strategic claim on the Arctic region.

Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Read Part Three here.

Russian MOD Moves to Create Two “New Look” Brigades for the Arctic

In late May, Colonel-General Aleksandr Postnikov, Commander of Ground Forces, left Moscow for a three-day trip to northwest Russia with visits to St. Petersburg and Murmansk. During the trip, Iurii Gavrilov reported that the chief task would be resolving questions connected with the formation in the north of Russia of the so-called “Arctic brigades.” Gavrilov noted that in the past, when Russian media mentioned the formation of Arctic units, they were met by denials. “Why the military up to now had sought to conceal its interest in this time one can only speculate.” The Ministry of Defense described Postnikov’s trip as a sort of reconnaissance in support of a final decision to locate the brigade at Pechinga, about 100 km northwest of Murmansk. But according to other sources Postnikov was not just looking over a base site but also addressing the unit’s structure and composition. These sources stressed the need for a truly air-mobile formation to conduct combat operations in the Arctic. The unit would need special equipment to operate in super-cold conditions and require specialized training, which might draw upon “the experience of our Finnish and Norwegian neighbors.” The initial brigade would have a strength of 3,000 to 5,000 men (Iurii Gavrilov, “General moroz i ego riadovye,” Rossiiskaia gazeta, 18 May 2011). On the same day that Gavrilov reported on Postnikov’s inspection trip, Viktor Khudoleev wrote in Krasnaia zezda about what the new Arctic brigades would look like. He confirmed Gavrilov’s details on the brigade’s composition, equipment and training. Referring to the “Foundations of State Policy…on the Arctic,” he noted that “it required the creation in the next few years in the region a group of forces to ensure the military security under various military-political circumstances” (Viktor Khudoleev. “Oblik ‘arkticheskikh brigad,” Krasnaia zvezda, 18 May 2011).

That same day, Regnum Information Agency, as part of its on-going series “struggle for the Arctic,” reprinted an article by Aleskandr Khramchikhin from Arkitika i Sever, which addressed the military-political situation in the Arctic and scenarios of possible conflicts and gave an endorsement to enhancing Russia’s military presence. Khramchikhin pointed out that even during the Cold War, the militarization of the Arctic had remained largely a theoretical problem. Moreover, with the Cold War’s end, there had been a general reduction of forces in the Arctic region. However, recent events connected with the thawing of the Arctic ice pack and the discovery of major hydrocarbon reserves beneath the Arctic shelf had made militarization an immediate prospect. In the absence of well-defined borders, Arctic powers were free to make their own claims to territories and to back such claims with military forces. Geography and political alliances have placed Russia in direct competition with several NATO members: the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway. Iceland, which lacks military forces, has not put forward any claims and Sweden and Finland lack direct access to the Arctic.

Khramchikhin examined the efforts of the NATO members to improve their air, naval and ground presence in the Arctic. He noted that US military power in the Arctic is primarily deployed in Alaska and could effectively threaten the Chukotka across the Bering Straits, which Russia would be hard pressed to defend, but which would have almost no effect on vital Russian interests. Russia’s Arctic forces are deployed on the Kola Peninsula and there is almost nothing to the east of that. He reviewed a range of possible scenarios from local conflicts to strategic nuclear attacks based on events in the Arctic, but concluded that none of them made much military-political sense. Indeed, heightened tensions in the Arctic were sure to reduce the interests of private energy firms in what are already technologically difficult projects. Khramchikhin does, however, add one other player to the Arctic game. China will have both the interests and the forces to play there in the future and has announced it intension to join the game. He concludes that the various scenarios, which he considered, are not likely:

“Thus, although changes in climatic conditions and economic interests of Arctic countries have created the theoretical possibility for the militarization of the Arctic and the outbreak here of various military conflicts in the foreseeable future, the probability that any of the scenarios of conflicts considered here will take place is quite low. At the same time one should note that one of the most important factors in preventing such conflicts in more distant future is the strengthening of Russia's military potential in all its components in the Arctic and in general” (Aleksandr Khramchikhin, “Voenno-politicheskaia situtsiia v Arktike i stsenarii vozmozhnykh konfliktov,” Regnum Informatsionnoe Agenstvo, 18 May 2011).

While the Ground Forces seemed to be moving forward to create at least one Arctic Brigade at Pechinga, the Russian Airborne forces announced that they would also have a joint role in Arctic defense. General-Lieutenant Vladimir Shamanov, Commander of Airborne Forces reported that the General Staff had recommended to begin work on devising a plan to use airborne forces as part of a joint forces unit composed of naval, ground and airborne forces. He mentioned that the week before the commanders of three naval infantry brigades and three air assault brigades had met at the Airborne School in Riazan to study creating of such a joint Arctic command. Shamanov denied that Russian airborne forces would have an independent role in Arctic operations and said that they would not deploy to the Kuril Islands. Airborne forces were, however, going to create two helicopter regiments, and he was looking at deploying them at Pskov and Ulianovsk (“Desantniki budut zashchat arkticheskii shel’f Rossii,” Tikhookeanskaia vakhta, 28 May 2011).

In early July, as Serdiukov was announcing the creation of Russia’s Arctic brigades, the Russian military press noted Canada’s increased efforts in the north. On July 5, it was announced that the Canadian Armed Forces would be conducting its largest Arctic exercise in many years. Canadian Minister of National Defense Peter MacKay was quoted as stating that “Operation Nanook 2011” would take place throughout August and would involve actions over several stages across the Canadian Arctic, in which air, naval and ground forces would take part, including Canadian rangers and Inuit territorial troops. MacKay started that “the goal of the maneuvers is to expand the presence of Canada in the North. The government of the country has every intention of providing the means to these objectives.” These means have included the development of a major military base on Baffin Island (“Innostrannaia voennaia khronika,” Krasnaia zvezda, 5 July 2011).

On Jul 11 Ogonek drew attention to the Arctic by publishing a cover remembering the Soviet polar expedition of 1938 and then devoting two articles to Arctic defense issues. Oleg Anisimov, head of a section at the State Hydrological Institute and a member of the Inter-governmental group of experts on climate change, dismissed the decision to create Arctic forces as a purely political one disconnected from north political and military realities. No one has any immediate intention of attacking Russia in the North. Discussions about future conflicts over resources would not be answered by the deployment of a brigade of ground forces in the Arctic. “Our military often thinks in terms of scenarios from the last century. They don’t fight like that today: there are UAVs, missiles. And the threats now are different, including first of all terrorism. But terrorism and the Arctic do not compute. There are territorial disputes in the Arctic.” But Anisimov sees this as an issue more affected by climate changes, which are causing major erosion on Arctic islands and coast line, than by conflicting state claims to energy development rights. Arctic development, especially the northern sea route, holds out more promise than investments in troops (Oleg Anisimov, “Kholodnyi raschet,” Ogonek, 11 July 2011).

The second article reviewed the decisions leading up to the creation of the two brigades. Kirill Zhurenkov then asked just what the Russian military would be defending and stressed competition for Arctic resources in a region with poorly defined borders and greater possibilities for maritime trade through the area. He noted the contradiction in the actions of the Security Council concerning Arctic security and the declarations of Ambassador Vasil’ev in the fall of 2010 that Russia had no intention of creating any special forces formations for the Arctic. Consulting various specialists on defense issues, Zhurenkov judged the creation of the brigade to make sense, but wondered whether the necessary resources to sustain the effort would be forthcoming. In addition to the two brigades announced by the Minister of Defense, Russia has also been developing its own “arctic spetsnaz” (Northern Sea Lions), trained not only in rescue techniques but also as observers of deep-water communications with the capacity to thwart those intent on disrupting such communications. He concluded that Russia does have interests in the Arctic to defend and can only protect such interests by military means if other powers are intent upon militarizing the region. The article concludes with an assessment of each Arctic state’s interests and their willingness to abide by a solution to conflicting border claims from the UN (Kirill Zhurenkov, “Beloe dvizhenie,” Ogonek, 11 July 2011).

On July 16, the provincial press from Belgorod published two articles on Arctic developments by foreign authors. The first was a Canadian piece from Toronto’s Globe and Mail on Canada’s summer Arctic exercise, “Operation Nanook 2011,” which Jeremy Torobin described as a show of force. The article quotes Minister of Defense MacKay as saying: “Our goal is to strengthen our role and presence in the North” (Jeremy Torobin, “Glob end mail [Kanada],” Belgorodskia pravda, 16 July 2011). The second article came from the Wall Street Journal by its Moscow correspondent Alan Cullison, and was a recap of Russian news on the decision to create two Arctic brigades. However, while the original title of the piece addressed that topic directly – “Russia to Deploy Troops to Defend Interests in Arctic,” the Belgorod paper changed the title to reflect a larger theme of the Arctic’s place “during a general warming of chilly relations.” It emphasized the conclusion of the article, which addressed the rationale for such military presence in terms of the competition for control of the northern sea route, fishing grounds and energy resources (Alan Cullison, “Arktika: Pri obshchem poteplenii prokhladnei otnosheniia?” Belgorodskaia pravda, 16 July 2011).

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Russia: The “New Look” Faces North (Part Three)

By Jacob W. Kipp

The following is Part Three of a five part series on the Russian efforts to stake a strategic claim on the Arctic region.

Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.

In December 2008, Morskoi sbornik carried an article by A. Smolovskii, which addressed the military aspects of the Russian Arctic policy in terms of securing control of the Lomonosov Ridge and its anticipated energy resources. Russian efforts to strengthen its defenses were depicted as a direct result of the “militarization of the Arctic by the West.” Smolovskii identified two major features in this militarization: the extended present of Western military forces in the region in the form of 1) US and British nuclear submarine patrols, flights of US and Canadian shore-based aviation and patrols by US Coast Guard, and the sea defense forces of Denmark, Norway and Canada, and 2) increased monitoring of the region by aero-space, surface, and particularly subsurface means supported by the conduct of naval exercises in the direct vicinity of Russian territory (A Smolovskii, “Poslednie voenno-politicheskie sobytiia v Arktike,” Morskoi sbornik, December 2008).

Russian commentators remained concerned about what was called “the struggle for the Arctic,” but did not seem to see the defense of the Arctic tied to the Russian military’s New Look. Speaking before the State Duma on April 15, 2010, M. P. Nenashev, a member of the Duma Committee on Defense and the head of the Movement for the Navy, put before his colleagues the “most important questions of policy, economics, defense, and transportation of our country. This is the question of the condition of affairs relating to the development of the Arctic.” Calling attention to the volcanic eruption on Iceland and its effects on international aviation, Nenashev warned that Russian could face unpleasant unnamed consequences if it did not address in a systematic fashion all aspects of Arctic development. He called for efforts to stop the flight of the Russian population from the far north and emphasized the need to develop medicine and education to support that population. Focusing on military capabilities, he noted Russia should “…build, repair, and modernize icebreakers and other necessary vessels, create a complete transportation infrastructure today before it is too late.” Under military reform, Russia should stop cutting back “our defensive resources, particularly the Northern Fleet, the Pacific Fleet, aviation, and ground forces. …it is vitally important for Russia and for global security to develop its military, naval, and air presence in this region” (“Arkticheskii aktsent,” Morskaia gazeta, 26 April 2010). But Nenashev’s call seemed to go unanswered. In September 2010, Putin spoke on the peaceful development of the Arctic at an International Arctic Forum sponsored by the Russian Geographic Society. There was much talk about Russia’s Arctic claims, but these were presented as subject to international resolution with much emphasis on protection of the Arctic environment as energy exploration went forward. Putin rejected conjectures by certain futurologists about an impending “battle for the Arctic,” and pledged that Russia would seek to achieve its ends by peaceful means, and not make use of the methods of the “Cold War.” Anton Vasil’ev, Russia’s Special Envoy to the UN for Arctic matters, stressed Russia’s commitment to a negotiated settlement via the UN, and declared that “Moscow does not plan to create specialized Arctic forces” (Tat'iana Zamakhina, “Arkticheskaia voi’na budet teploi,” Moskovskii komsomolets, 24 Sept 2010).

However, the failure of the UN to accept Russia’s claims during the international body’s 2010 session seems to have put an end to the commitment to resolve conflicting Arctic claims by negotiations alone and brought military considerations back into open discussions. Russia was arming for the “battle of the Arctic.” On April 1, 2011, Vladimir Voloshin reported that the Ministry of Defense, as part of its “new look,” had taken the decision to create a “special, cold-weather motorized-rifle brigade on the Kola Peninsula at the base of the current 200th motorized-rifle brigade.” The article went on to discuss the new equipment, which would make it possible for the brigade to fight in super-cold conditions. Voloshin stated that the decision to create the Arctic brigade had been taken in 2008 as part of “The Foundations of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the period to 2020” as approved by the Security Council. He cited an Arctic arms race among the powers competing for influence in the region. “Now a good ten powers are seeking to divide up the region to their own advantage. Now this is being done by claims under international law. But one needs to be prepared in any case to apply ‘the armed argument’” (Vladimir Voloshin, “U Rossii budut Arkticheskie voi’ska,” Komsomol'skaia pravda, 1 April 2011).

Monday, August 15, 2011

Does Russia Conceal the Real Casualties of Its Forces in the North Caucasus?

By Valery Dzutsev

On August 12, the North Caucasian rebel resource reported an astonishing discrepancy between official and previously reported numbers of casualties. On August 11, government forces killed six militants in Makhachkala, Dagestan. In a press-release related to the August operation, the Russian national antiterrorist committee said that the killed rebels had been involved in two high-profile attacks in Dagestan. On September 5, 2010, a suicide bomber attack killed 56 servicemen at the military base in Buinaksk. On February 14, 2011, two suicide bombers – ethnic Russian converts to Islam, Vitaly Razdobudko and Marina Khorosheva – killed 26 servicemen in a double suicide attack in Gubden village in Dagestan (

The intrigue of the situation is that at the time, the Russian official sources reported four killed servicemen in Buinaksk ( and two killed servicemen in Gubden ( According to Kavkazcenter, the RIA Novosti website removed the initial numbers of casualties from its website. In fact, its modified article does not contain any casualty numbers for the Buinaksk or Gubden attacks. ( However, information about 56 and 26 killed servicemen in attacks in Dagestan continued to be available on the internet as of August 14, 2011. In particular, the English version of ITAR-TASS news agency’s website still reflected the numbers of killed as 56 and 26 respectively (

Given the relative freedom of the press in Dagestan, this discrepancy is even more striking. If there was no mistake and the initial numbers of casualties were tweaked, the casualty statistics in the North Caucasus should be drastically readjusted. The latest incident casts additional doubt on already dubious Russian statistics concerning the unrest in the North Caucasus.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Russia: The “New Look” Faces North (Part Two)

By Jacob W. Kipp

The following is Part Two of a five part series on the Russian efforts to stake a strategic claim on the Arctic region.

Read Part One here.

In late June 2007, the Shipbuilding giant Sevmash, located in Arkhangelsk Oblast’, was looking for a partnership with Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil, along with foreign investors, to create a new infrastructure to exploit the gas and oil deposits. This included ice-resistant platforms, icebreakers, sea-going tugs, terminals, pipelines, a new dry-dock and LNG tankers. The investment in this infrastructure was estimated at 6.5 billion rubles (Pravda Severa, June 28, 2007). However, the challenges of energy extraction from under the Arctic Sea have proven even harder than expected, and have pushed Russian investors to seek both foreign capital and expertise in what is viewed as a long-term development program. Indeed, Russia has promised to changes its laws to encourage foreign invest in Arctic projects (, June 1). Russian specialists estimate Arctic Russia’s energy reserves to be disproportionally in natural gas.

While scientists may support and diplomats argue for such a claim, military power in the region will figure in the calculus of control over these resources. Russian discussions of an enhanced military presence in the Arctic go back many years and were articulated in the document “The Foundations of State Policy in the Arctic to 2020.” Speaking to a plenary session of the Security Council on Arctic policy in September 2008, President Medvedev stated: “This region, without any exaggeration, has strategic significance for our country, and the solution of many long-term tasks is connected directly with its development” (Na Strazhe Zapolar’ia, September 20, 2008). He addressed the geopolitics of the Arctic, the need to secure the northern sea route for navigation, protect the ecology of the region and to press ahead with the development of natural resources, including energy in the Arctic continental shelf. The measure was described as one that would mobilize the efforts of many ministries and state institutions. But it fell to the Secretary of the Security Council to state the underlying need: the defense of Russia’s interest in the Arctic. Nikolai Patrushev said that the President had ordered the Security Council to complete work on the document covering Arctic policy by December 1, 2008. “We must protect our interests in the Arctic, but we understand that the Arctic states – Canada, Norway, Denmark and the USA will protect their own interests” (Kommersant, September 18, 2008). The final document, as signed by President Medvedev, looked to the long-range development of the region and contemplated bilateral and multilateral cooperation in aspects of Arctic development. But it also contained an explicit charge to enhance Russia’s Arctic defenses:

“In the sphere of military security and the protection of the state borders of the Russian Federation in the Arctic Region it is necessary to create a grouping of conventional forces of the Russian Federation and other troops, military formations and organs (primarily border-patrol organs) in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation, which will be capable of ensuring the military security under various military-political circumstances” (Sovet Bezopasnosti, Rossiiskaia Federatsiia, “Osnovy gosudarstvennoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii v Arktike do 2020 goda i dal'neishuiu perspektivu,” September 18, 2008).

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Russia: The “New Look” Faces North (Part One)

By Jacob W. Kipp

The following is Part One of a five part series on the Russian efforts to stake a strategic claim on the Arctic region.

In early July, Russia’s Defense Minister Anatoly Serdiukov announced the creation of two brigades for the defense of Russia’s Arctic region. He went on to state that the General Staff was working out their place of deployment, numerical strength, armament and supporting infrastructure. In this process, Russian specialists had taken into account foreign experience with Arctic forces, including Finnish, Swedish, and Norwegian. The report speculated that the brigades would be stationed in Murmansk or Archangelsk (Murmanskii vestnik, July 5). This announcement comes as no surprise after four years of Russian claims to expanded interests in the Arctic, especially the development of energy resources. Vladimir Putin had urged development of the Russian Arctic and promoted Russia’s extended territorial claims while President. He spoke to a Party conference of United Russia in Ekaterinburg on the need for additional private energy investment and linked that to enhancing Russian military presence in the Arctic. He stated that Russia is seeking to expand there, and will “firmly and consistently” defend its geopolitical interests in the region Moscow Times, July 1).

On July 6, Russia announced that it will submit a claim to the United Nations to expand its Arctic shelf borders as scientists embarked on a new expedition to prove its ownership of energy-rich territory. Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, speaking from Narian-Mar in Russia’s far north, said, “I expect that next year we will present a well-based scientific claim about expanding the borders of our Arctic shelf.” The stakes here are quite high with Denmark, Canada and Russia presenting claims to the region. The new expedition will continue the work of one mounted in 2007. The author stressed the significance of these claims for Russia’s energy future: “Geologist estimate that in the depths of the Arctic Ocean are located 30 percent of the world reserves of natural gas and 13 percent of world oil reserves. If Russia gets the right to the Lomonosov Ridge, it will get control over 60 percent of the hydrocarbons, which might be located in the region” Nezaviimaia gazeta, July 7).

The decision to create Arctic brigades for the Russian Army and Putin’s linkage of such forces with Russia’s plans to transform the Arctic into a new frontier for marine time trade and energy extraction stands in stark contrast with the situation in the region only a decade ago. Russia’s Arctic, including its northwest strategic direction covering the Kola Peninsula, was an explicit example of Russia’s decline since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Soviet state had poured resource into the northwest to build a huge naval complex to supports its Northern Fleet, which included the surface, submarine, and naval aviation forces intended to defend the Barents Sea as a bastion of the Soviet Union’s SLBNs of the Delta and Typhoon classes. By the end of the 1990s, that fleet had declined and one of the chief challenges facing the region was the de-coring of the reactors of old nuclear submarines as part of their decommissioning. The number of nuclear submarines from the Northern Fleet needing decommissioning was staggering and well beyond the capacity of Russia’s facilities and its defense budget. International cooperation was required. At the same time, Russia’s urban centers north of the Arctic Circle were experiencing population flight as state subsidies and defense orders disappeared (Jacob W. Kipp, “Russia’s Northwest Strategic Direction,” [July-August 1999], pp. 52-65). These problems have not gone away.

The nuclear clean-up at Andreev Bay has made progress and Minatom has promised that by 2025 the residents will have a “green pond.” In the meantime, 40 reactor cores are stored in the area and another seven will go into storage this year (Murmanskii vestnik, July 21). Moreover, the decay of the old Soviet infrastructure for its nuclear submarine forces continues. The submarine base at Gremikha, which supported 40 nuclear submarines and had a population of 30,000, is dying with no boats and a population of 1,300. Social services barely function, the bakeries are closed, and the population feels abandoned by those in power. The climate tests human endurance. The wind howls like mad dogs and the rain beats down sharp and icy. As Sergei Leskov reported, Gremikha is a dying town with a people who have no future (Izvestiia, July 18).

Russia’s economic recovery over the last decade, combined with the discovery of significant reserves of oil and gas in the North and the impact of global warming on Arctic ice fields have brought with them a renewed enthusiasm for Arctic investment and development in Moscow. In the summer of 2007, “Arctic mania” hit Russia. That summer, a geological polar expedition on a nuclear icebreaker returned after six weeks to report that the Lomonosov Ridge was part of the Russian mainland, and the claim went forward for including 1.2 million sq. km to Russian territory, an area larger than Texas and California combined. The chief geologist on the expedition, Valerii Kaminskii estimated the gas and oil reserves at 100 billion tons. “Russia must use all its resources to retain its leadership position in the Arctic,” declared the Governor of Murmansk Oblast’, Yurii Evdokimov, at meeting of the National Anti-Terrorism Committee under the chairmanship of Nikolai Patrushev (“V koridorakh vlasti dolzhny sokhranit’ liderstvo v Arktike,” Murmanskii vestnik, 27 June 2007). Andrei Reut, writing about the economic potential of the region being claimed, framed the issue as one of Russian national security:

“For Russia, the exploitation of the shelf is the chief means by which to remain a European energy provider in the 21st century. In the near term, the reserves located in Western Siberia will be exhausted and the reserves in Eastern Siberia and Timano-Pechorsk Basin could prove to be insufficient to secure the annual production of 560 million tons needed. Therefore the struggle for the shelf is for us a matter of national security” (Andrei Reut, “Rossiia podrastet na 1 200 000 kvadratnykh km Arktiki,” Izvestiia, 27 June 2007).