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Russia Intensifies Economic And Security Efforts In the Arctic

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Russia Intensifies Economic And Security Efforts In the Arctic

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Russia is to deploy S-400 missile defense systems in the Arctic in an attempt to solidify its economic and military control over the melting region. According to an analysis by the ISW, the Arctic currently accounts for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP.

In an interview on March 13th, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, the commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet said that the primarily goal right now is security in the Arctic.

“New air defense formation units will soon be placed in the Yakut village of Tiksi,” Yevmenov said. “They’re designed to ensure the safety of airspace over the Northern Sea Route.”

Yevmenov said the Northern Fleet will be reinforced with coastal defense missiles, as well as a Tor-M2DT short-range air defense missile system.

This follows Russian President Vladimir Putin’s announcement from 2014 that Russia should focus on strengthening its position in the Arctic:

“Russia should pay more attention to strengthening its position in the Arctic, since this region represents the concentration of the country’s interests in many areas. The Arctic is the most important and very promising region of Russia, and in addition to raw materials, it is also extremely convenient for the development of transport infrastructure.”

The strategy for the development of the Arctic zone of the Russian Federation and ensuring national security for the period up to 2020, approved by the President of the Russian Federation on February 20, 2013, indicated that there is a shortage of aircraft and technological capabilities for the purpose.

A report by Ruskaya Vesna, claimed that the situation is changing “for the better.”

A class of promising new types of aircraft, including IL-476, IL-112 and IL-114, designed for polar exploitation, is being developed. In addition, IL-114 is planned to be used as a platform for all sorts of special complexes: reconnaissance, patrolling, monitoring, as an option of putting it on skis, for use in the Arctic zones and as a patrol and rescue vehicle.

The Chief of Naval Aviation of the Russian Navy, Major General Igor Kozhin said that in the near future, many Russian airfields in the Arctic would become all-season. They will be able to receive all types of aircraft, including missile carriers.

“We have repaired almost all the airfields located in the Arctic zone, we fly back and forth. Prepared everywhere aviation commandant’s offices. It is worth noting that in the coming years, most Russian airfields in the Arctic will be able to receive aircraft of all types and in all seasons,” he said.

To assist in forwarding the Russian economic interests in the Arctic, in January 2019, the Russian Ministry of the Far East was transformed into the Ministry of the Far East and the Arctic.

“New ports and new energy capacities are being built, and of course also new sites for comfortable living, as well as a number of more undertakings,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev underlined in his meeting with Vladimir Putin.

“This is indeed a very important initiative, after all the Arctic has the most important resource potential in the country,” the Prime Minister underlined.

According to Medvedev, the establishment of a separate ministry of the Arctic would be too costly both in terms financial and administrative resources. And Arctic issues are in many terms related with Far Eastern developments.

And indeed, with a decision from February 26th, 2019 the Ministry of the Far East and the Arctic was formed.

Putin ordered his government by 2024 to increase by a factor of eight Russia’s sea cargo traveling along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic, the ISW analysts noted. “The route is likely to become increasingly viable for commercial use given the melting polar ice caps, presenting new economic opportunities in global trade to Russia.”

On March 21st, it was announced that Gazprom began full-scale development of Kharasaveyskoye gas and condensate field on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula.

It said production will start in 2023 at 32 billion cu m/year from Cenomanian-Aptian deposits. Later production will come from deeper Necomian-Jurassic strata.

In terms of security of the trade route, on March 6th, Izvestia reported that foreign military vessels are required to notify Russia at least forty-five days in advance of their plans for transiting the Northern Sea Route (NSR) and accept onboard pilots from Russia.

The commander of the European command of the US Armed Forces, General Curtis Scaparotti, said during a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that “the United States is ready to hold back Russia in the Arctic,” since they have “resource and commercial interest” in the NSR.

“Russia, because that Northern Sea Route is the one that follows most closely to their borders, has … reopened 10 of their airports there,” he said. “They now have radar systems up. They’ve begun to move, on periodic times, different weapons systems up there for control of the area. So, those are all things that I have to bring into my planning.”

The US in January 2019 agreed on a spending bill that includes $655 million for the first new icebreaker in 43 years for the US Coast Guard. The bill also includes an additional $20 million for long-lead components for a second icebreaker.

Currently the US can’t compete with Russia in the Arctic:

The Coast Guard operates just one large icebreaker, the 399-feet-long Polar Star, which commissioned into service in 1976. The service also operates Healy, a 420-feet-long medium icebreaker that commissioned in 1999. Polar Star can break ice up to 21 feet thick. Healy can cut through ice no more than four and a half feet thick.

“Although the Healy is capable of carrying out a wide range of activities, [she] cannot operate independently in the ice conditions in the Antarctic or ensure timely access to some Arctic areas in the winter,” the Government Accountability Office explained in a September 2018 report.

The two new icebreakers that Congress funded in January 2019 are just the start. “It is the sense of Congress that the Coast Guard should maintain an inventory of not fewer than six polar-class icebreaker vessels beginning not later than fiscal year 2029,” the 2019 defense authorization act states.

The ISW analysis also claimed that Russia aims to stop China’s interests in the Arctic, but that doesn’t appear to be the truth.

The Russian council reported the following regarding China’s interests in the Arctic and Russia’s attitude towards them:

“The Arctic is extremely important for Russia, but relatively less important for China. All other regions described above: Eastern, Central and South Asia and Europe – prevail in the list of Beijing’s geostrategic priorities compared to the actual Arctic.

There are also strategic contradictions between China and the United States in the maritime zone of the Asia-Pacific region (APR). Moscow continues, as is known, to successfully export modern weapons systems to China. Voentorg is successfully working: this year the contract for the delivery of the 24 newest Russian Su-35 fighters to Beijing is being completed. The Russian Defense Ministry perfectly sees how the PLA uses them to develop its military potential, expanding its combat capabilities against the United States, to fend off their superiority at sea, and not to use against Russia and in Eurasia.

Russia’s aspiration for closer cooperation with China contributed to the fact that Moscow in 2013 opened for Beijing the possibility of obtaining permanent observer status in the Arctic Council (AS). In 2018, in the light of the expansion of Western anti-Russian sanctions, Moscow opened the door to the Arctic for large-scale Chinese investment. But from a global, strategic point of view and the trends described above, it seems unlikely that Russia will continue to leave the door wide open for multilateral security policy and military cooperation with China in the Arctic. In turn, China is aware of the strategic importance of the Arctic for Russia, and therefore Beijing will not benefit from challenging Russian interests in this region.”

China is also working on its own nuclear-powered icebreaker, and aiming to become the 2nd country in the world apart from Russia to operate such a vessel.

And China has shown no intent of competing with Russia in the region, rather it has presented keenness for co-operation, which actually puts the US at an even more precarious position in the region.

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