Russia is also expanding its military presence in the Arctic region. The Russian Presidential Security Council has called for establishing an military force and several new bases in the Arctic, while the Federal Security Service (FSB) will use its coast guard ships to collect maritime intelligence in the region.
The Russian government is moving swiftly to expand its sea, ground, and air presence in the Arctic. Russia has resumed air patrols over the Arctic, and, in June 2008, the Russian Defense Ministry stated that it would increase submarine operations if Russian national interests in the Arctic were ever threatened.
In October 2010, Navy Commander Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky said that Russian naval ships and submarines had already conducted about a dozen military patrols in the Arctic during the first three quarters of that year. Vysotsky explained that, “In accordance with the Russian Armed Forces’ plan of strategic deterrence we take measures aimed to demonstrate military presence in the Arctic.”
Russia’s strategic ballistic-missile launching submarines use the North Pole region because the ice helps shield them from U.S. space satellites and other overhead sensors. In addition, launching a missile from the Arctic can reduce the flight time to U.S. targets. In July 2009, the Russian Navy boasted that it had succeeded in launching two long-range ballistic missiles from under the Arctic Ocean without the Pentagon detecting their preparations.
Supposedly Russian attack submarines prevented U.S. surveillance ships from learning of the arrival of two Russian strategic submarines before the missile launches. The state-run RIA Novosti news agency quoted a high-ranking Navy source as saying that the successful drill disproved skeptics in Russia and elsewhere that the Russian Navy had lost its combat effectiveness: “We slapped these skeptics in the face, proving that Russian submarines are not only capable of moving stealthily under ice, but can also break it to accomplish combat tasks.”
Nonetheless, for the past year or so, Russian officials have sought to downplay the prospects of military conflict in the Arctic region. In late 2010, the special representative of President Medvedev, Anton Vasilyev, stated that “Russia does not plan to create ‘special Arctic forces’ or take any steps that would lead to the militarization of the Arctic,” which contradicts provisions stated in Moscow’s security doctrine.”
In his year-in-review press conference, Foreign Minister Lavrov said that all Arctic border disputes could be settled through negotiations and that ” rumors that a war will break out over the resources in the North are a provocation.” Last year, after 40 years of negotiations, Russia and Norway signed a deal to delimitate their maritime border. The two countries have been disputing the 175,000 square km area in the Barents Sea and Arctic Ocean since 1970. The disputed maritime border has resulted in both parties seizing fishing vessels in the area. President Medvedev and Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg signed an agreement dividing the contested area into two equal parts. Meanwhile, while Russia still contests ownership of the Lomonosov Ridge with Canada, both countries have agreed that the United Nations would be the final arbiter of who owns title to the Ridge.
Russia’s Recent Arctic Moves