Staunton, September 20 – Even as one Kremlin advisor predicts a military conflict in the high north later in this century, Moscow’s special representative to the Arctic Council says that “Russia does not intend to militarize the Arctic and create in this region special forces,” although he acknowledged that the Russian government does plan to modernize its existing forces there.
Anton Vasilyev, Russian ambassador for special assignments, told a Moscow news conference today that Russia is not making plans to create special force for the Arctic and that “all discussions about the militarization of the Arctic do not have any relationship to reality” (www.kommersant.ru/doc.aspx?DocsID=1507564).
But he added that “we in fact intend to strengthen the corresponding material part of the forces and the means which correspond to questions of security, above all in order to guarantee the security of shipping,” something that he suggested was for the good of all nations who will use the Arctic route or seek to exploit natural resources on the floor of that sea.
Earlier, other Russian officials such as Vladimir Nazarov, the deputy secretary of the Russian Security Council, have said that Moscow is “against the militarization of the Arctic region and for ‘the civilized delimitation of this zone,” the paper continued, noting that Russia is concerned about the actions of the United States and Canada in the high north.
And last week, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev reiterated this point when he signed the delimitation agreement with Norway that ends a dispute about sea borders that had become increasingly serious because of efforts by various nations to exploit the natural resources in the area (rusk.ru/newsdata.php?idar=43896).
Moreover, Medvedev said, Moscow views with concern all NATO activities in the Arctic. That region, he suggested, “can manage fine without NATO” because “this area is part of our common wealth which does not really have any relation to military objectives” Instead, it should be “a zone of peaceful cooperation” (www.barentsobserver.com/medvedev-the-arctic-is-best-without-nato.4820044-116321.html).
But two other developments last week suggest that whatever Moscow may be saying now, it is certainly preparing for a clash in the Arctic at some point in the future and is already prepared to demonstrate its own military capacities vis-à-vis the appearance of ships belonging to the navies of other countries.
In a comment published on Ruskline.ru, Yury Kosov, dean of the international relations faculty of the North West Academy of State Service attached to the Office of the President of the Russian Federation, said that “in the middle of the 21st century a war for the Arctic may begin” (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2010/9/17/yurij_kosov_v_seredine_xxi_veka_mozhet_nachatsya_vojna_za_arktiku/).
The reasons for this, as he and other analysts are pointing out, lie not only in the absence of an internationally agreed-upon delimitation of the sea bed but also in the increasing ability of corporations and countries to extract resources from the Arctic, something that one Russian analyst has said may make the Arctic “the Persian Gulf” of the future (vlasti.net/news/102768).
But the more immediate risks of a clash in the high north were illustrated by an incident news agencies reported on Thursday. After the US Navy frigate USS Taylor made an official visit to the Russian port of Murmansk and had returned to international waters, a Russian patrol aircraft overflew it “with its Bombay doors open” (www.barentsobserver.com/bomb-bay-doors-open-over-u-s-frigate.4819811-116321.html).
Nothing more threatening happened and following a US inquiry Moscow gave what Admiral Gary Roughead, the chief of Naval Operations, said was a “satisfying” explanation of the incident. But Western news agencies nonetheless pointed out that “the Russian aircraft” involved is “capable of carrying torpedoes, bombs and depth charges.”