Although over the last decade there has been concern regarding the possible emergence of territorial conflicts or a ‘resource race’ in the Arctic, in reality the Arctic has enjoyed a high level of cooperation. Even though Russia has been strengthening its military and civil emergency forces in the Arctic as a part of a wider program of military modernization, the Arctic has still been regarded by experts and policymakers in the region as a benign security environment. However, against the background of the conflict in Ukraine and Russia’s tensions with the West, Russian military build-up in the Arctic has renewed concerns regarding the potential militarization of the region.
For much of the past decade, the Kremlin has worked actively on developing energy resources and shipping in the Arctic region. It has built partnerships with foreign companies and created a favorable investment environment through tax breaks and mechanisms for partnership between the public and private sectors. In this context, most Russian officials distanced themselves from security-based rhetoric on the Arctic and instead underlined that Moscow views the Arctic as a special zone of international relations where peace and cooperation prevail over tensions.
However, since the deterioration of relations with the West, Russia’s rhetoric regarding the Arctic has significantly changed, pointing to increasing threats to Russia’s national security and interests in the region. This has been reflected in Russia’s security documents. The task of “protecting Russian interests in the Arctic” for the first time appeared in the Russian Military Doctrine adopted in 2014. The Doctrine names expansion of NATO power capacity, which endows the organization with global functions realized through violation of the international legal norms and moves the military infrastructure of NATO member states closer to the borders of the Russian Federation, as number one external military danger to Russia.
New amendments to Russia’s Maritime Doctrine, which were adopted in July 2015, have focused on the Arctic and Atlantic. NATO’s global activities are seen as the major security concern in the Atlantic, while Arctic’s importance is determined by its provision of limitless access to the Atlantic Ocean and by the Northern Fleet’s defense capabilities. Additionally, the Maritime Doctrine has underlined “lowering the threats in the Arctic region” as its main goal for Arctic policy, to be achieved through strengthening the Northern Fleet, among other means.
Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that Russian officials are not expecting conflict over resources or territories in the Arctic. Despite the current tensions between Russia and the West, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov underlined that “the current complicated international situation does not bring any cardinal changes to the established order.”
Picture: ВикиКорректор (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons