NATO does not expect Russia’s war in Ukraine to be a long-term distraction from the Moscow’s plan to dominate the Arcticsaid a senior alliance diplomat, as climate change opens up new opportunities and poses new risks for the region.
James Appathurai, NATO deputy assistant secretary-general for emerging security challenges, told ‘Newsweek‘ during the Helsinki Security Forum this past weekend in Finland that the alliance nations will likely will increase their focus on the north as part of a long-term strategy to counter Russia.
Asked if Russia is still as much of a threat in the Arctic as it was before the invasion, Appathurai replied: “My short answer would be: yes.”
“For years, Russia has been opening or reopening military facilities up north, in the Arctic, putting all kinds of military capability there, icebreakers in numbers or quantities that really dwarf what any ally is putting there, even collectively. It’s very, very important,” Appathurai said.
President Vladimir Putin has made no secret of Russia’s intentions to dominate the Arctic region, which is believed to houses billions of dollars in fossil fuel reserves and untapped minerals, as well as valuable new shipping lines. Russia controls 53 percent of the Arctic coastline and has about two million people living in the region.
“The world wants to bite something out of us, but you must know, those who are going to do it, that we are going to knock everyone’s teeth out.” This is how Putin responded last May to the warnings of the US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, at the meeting of the Arctic Council, held in Reykjavik.
NATO nations, including the US, have long expressed concern about Russian intentions in the northern thaw. In August, the State Department said it plans to appoint its first ambassador to the Arctic, as competition with Russia and China, which has declared itself a “near-Arctic state,” seems inevitable.
The Ukraine war has frozen multilateral cooperation in the Arctic, traditionally somewhat insulated from political tensions elsewhere. The work of the eight-nation Arctic Council, whose rotating presidency is currently held by Russia, for example, has been suspended for several months. The other members of the group are the United States, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden.
The Arctic, Appathurai said, “has been one of the few places where constructive cooperation with the Russians has taken place.” “Now, I think even that is being called into question because of the Russian militarization there, because Russia is actually making it much more difficult to operate even in these Arctic Council environments. It’s getting worse,” he added.
The future Russian technology base Snowflake in the Arctic is part of the struggle to dominate the area. It will be a great laboratory of ‘subzero innovation’ in which all the energy will come from renewable sources and hydrogen. It is expected to be completed by 2024 and will be located in the foothills of the polar Urals.
In August, Putin announced during the National Day of the Russian Navy a new naval strategic doctrine that will intensify the activities of its ships in the Black and Azov Seas, as well as in the Arctic Ocean.
This new doctrine has been specifically conceived in the face of the “threat to Russia” represented by “the plans of the United States to dominate the oceans and shipping lines,” according to the document, collected by the Russian news agency Interfax.
Russia also plans to step up maritime activities in the Arctic to increase its ability to respond to “military activity by foreign states in the waters of the North Sea.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism