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Russian military presence in Arctic crucial to nation’s defense, economic interests

December 08, 2015, 20:17 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
© wikimedia.org/Brocken Inaglory

MOSCOW, December 8. /TASS/. Russia is restoring its military infrastructures and expanding military presence in the Arctic in order to attain strategic defense aims and to safeguard its economic interests in the region. As far as oil and gas reserves are concerned, these interests are bound to last, Russian experts say. And the normal operation of the Arctic Sea Route already now requires Russia should take measures to ensure the safety of shipping there.

Russia is restoring its military infrastructures in the Arctic not because its aim is to militarize the region, but because it wants to create favorable and calm conditions for people to work and live there, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told the international forum called The Arctic: the Present and the Future on Monday. Deputy Defense Minister Dmitry Bulgakov, too, believes that for making Russia secure from a whole range of potential threats Russia’s military presence in the Arctic must be permanent.

Russian President Vladimir Putin made a decision to build up muscle in the region back in September 2013, when he declared that the military base in the Novosibirsk Islands, closed down about 20 years ago, was to be restored.

A source at Russia’s General Staff told TASS six Russian military bases in the Arctic are already in place and "hundreds of Russian troops will be deployed there by New Year’s Eve." According to Bulgakov, a total of 437 military infrastructure facilities will be up and running in the region before this year is out. Next year the Arctic will see several dozen military exercises of different scale.

Russia this year formed and deployed in the Arctic two air defense regiments armed with S-400 Triumf systems, a source in the General Staff said. To protect these systems from air attacks several batteries of missile and artillery systems Pantsir have been brought there. The same source said that the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago will host a coastal missile battalion armed with Bastion missiles systems.

The ultimate aim of restoring military infrastructures and expanding military presence in the Arctic is to ward off potential military threats, military analyst Viktor Murakhovsky has told TASS. "According to US plans drafted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of the main strikes is to be dealt across the Arctic," said Murakhovsky, the editor-in-chief of the Arsenal Otechestva (Arsenal of the Fartherland) magazine. "The United States is currently working on a so-called Prompt Global Strike concept, and the Arctic region will be one of the main areas of operations. Also, the US Navy’s submarines are invariably present in the region. This explains why we are creating a system to monitor the surface, subsurface and air situations. The strategic operations command North has been created there. Air defense, air force and ground troops are at its disposal. And Russia’s Northern Fleet is one of the strongest in the country."

Murakhovsky believes that the worst military threat in the region comes from the United States. "Canada is a NATO member, but its armed forces are insignificant. The same is true of Norway," he said.

As far as the forthcoming decades are concerned, Russia does have economic interests in the Arctic it must protect, analyst Igor Yushkov, of the National Energy Security Fund has told TASS. "There are natural resources, above all, fossil fuels. Figuratively speaking, the Arctic is a vault of virtually all elements found in the Mendeleev Table. And the Arctic Sea Route’s transit potential is a major asset, too."

Russian off-shore areas are very promising from the standpoint of the production of oil and gas, because all of them are shallow, Yushkov said. True, the projects in the area have been stalled for now due to the oil price slump and sanctions. Russia has suspended the Prirazlomnoye project in the Barents Sea. The Shtokman gas project is frozen, too.

"No country in the world boasts safe offshore oil production technologies. They are still to be developed together. In the meantime, all are keen to lay hands on Arctic areas in advance, hoping to begin their development in the future, so the risk of conflicts there is high. The United States has not signed the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea to this day and it does not recognize the existing system of sharing the Arctic shelf. No common rules of the game have been agreed yet. Russia has presented its bid for expanding the continental shelf area, but all other Arctic countries have done the same. Some bids overlap and there emerge disputed areas.

The safety of shipping along Russia’s Arctic coast is of particular importance. "Under the convention, the passage is free, but Russia is obliged to guarantee the safety of shipping, because it is the sole country that has an icebreaker fleet there. For this purpose the Emergency Situations Ministry and the military are creating joint infrastructures."

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