Russia considers Arctic as one of their key priorities for its Armed Forces.
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said the main focus is Arctic military infrastructure including a vast modernization of Cold War-era airfields and the introduction of advanced technologies to facilitate further troops deployment.
The creation of a Russian Arctic command, Joint Strategic Command North (JSCN), in December 2014 is a proof of Russia’s willingness to rule the Arctic.
The new Russian Arctic command has been created to strengthen the vast border’s security and protect the growing Russian interests in the Arctic. “In the sphere of military security, defense and protection of the state border of the Russian Federation lying in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation – maintenance of a favorable operative regime in the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation, including maintenance of a necessary fighting potential of groupings of general purpose armies (forces) of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, other armies, military formations and organs in this region;” (Russian Federation’s Policy for the Arctic to 2020 III. b)
Russia is the most advanced country in development of the Arctic military infrastructure, according to a US Defense Department assessment made earlier this month.
The reopening of Cold War-era military installations and the establishment of new airfields are critical for Russia’s power projection. In fact, strategically, airfield capable of hosting strategic bombers in the Arctic could greatly improve the operational radius of the bombers and enabling them to fly in distant land.
That said, could the Russian Arctic Policy be an example to follow?
The creation, maintenance and supply of the Russian Arctic has been essential to Moscow’s Arctic policy, with President Vladimir Putin telling the top military officials in late 2013 “[w]e are returning to the Arctic and must possess all instruments of power for the protection of our national security interests.”
The Arctic has a vast untapped oil reserves and is currently being disputed by five of of the Arctic Circle countries.
Canada, Russia, the United States, Denmark and Norway have shown interest in exploring the possibilities of extracting Arctic oil and gas thus making the Arctic a geopolitical priority for the five countries.
The accessibility of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) might very well be another reason of a Russian militarization of the Arctic. A Russian Navy presence in the NSR would discourage any attempts of ecoterrorism and piracy, enabling the civilian shipping companies to safely sail through the passage.
While Russia is definitely the world’s most advanced country when it comes to military expansion, the United States and Canada are quickly falling behind. Russia has more icebreakers than both Canada and the US together. They can deploy a much larger force than the United States on a short notice and has the installations to host its troops (including aircraft and ships) for a certain period of time.
New installations also enables Russia to keep an eye on both the East and the West at the same time. Deployment of advanced radars and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) on both coasts gives Russia a strategic advantage if needed.
Russia has only started its Arctic exploitation and the recent deployment of soldiers and infrastructure is only the beginning.