THE RUSSIAN VIEW OF THE MILITARY SITUATION IN THE ARCTIC

lev-voronkov

Doctor Lev Voronkov

Professor of MGIMO – University

 

In my unprofessional opinion, the specifics of intelligence activity involves a high degree of secrecy of its operations, otherwise the work becomes meaningless.

It is highly unlikely that the Norwegian authorities would have allocated funds for the construction of the intelligence ship «Marjata», if the results of its operations are open to everyone, including those against whom this intelligence activity is carried out. A democratic control over intellegence activity should be implemented through allocations in the budget, the appointment of directors, legislative consolidation of tasks, methods of work, hearing reports on the work and other methods, but without interfering in operational activities of the intelligence.

In my view, General staffs of states, military experts and military alliances must deal with various scenarios of possible military conflicts and military operations in the Arctic. They are also required to train troops for fighting in various situations envisaged in these scenarios. Obviously, they are doing this. This is their professional job and obligation.

Different attempts to involve housewives, farmers, waiters, fishermen, businessmen and other civilians from the street into such discussions are usually not very bona fide attempts to create enemy images and artificial “threats” to security in order to influence public opinion of the country in the «right» direction and to provide public and financial support to the plans of rearmaments. In my presentation I will try to give an objective assessment of the situation in the Arctic without discussing hypothetical and groundless scenarios.

During the Cold War the North Atlantic and the Arctic had a key role to play in maintaining the nuclear missile parity between East and West and the containment strategy of the enemy in general. Within the framework of NATO activity in these regions Norway had the indispensable mission of monitoring the activities of the Northern fleet and providing intelligence services to the Alliance. The reconnaissance flights by American U-2 planes over the Soviet Union with the use of Norwegian airfields in Bodo is one of the examples of this kind.

The Soviet-Norwegian negotiations on the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Barents sea did not show any significant progress for several decades because NATO could thus bring its intelligence infrastructure closer to the defensive complex of the USSR on the Kola Peninsula. Under conditions of East-West military confrontation the prospects of solving the problems involved looked not very promising.

The elimination of global competition and military-political confrontation between world communism and world capitalism and the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from international arena marked the beginning of changes in the military-political situation in the Arctic.

After the desintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has opened the air space over the Arctic. The Polar routes allowed to make non-stop flights with passengers and cargo from North America to Asia 30 percent faster than previously, when they flew through Japan, UK or Germany. Foreign ships gained access to the Northern sea route and to Russian ports on the Arctic coast of the country as well. All this happened in the very sensitive national security area, which during the Cold War had been one of the neuralgic nodes of military rivalry and confrontation between the «superpowers».

Russia in this period closed former Soviet military bases on the Russian Islands in the Arctic, eliminated many border outposts on its Arctic coast, almost nullified the activities of Russian strategic submarines in the North Atlantic and under the Arctic ice, thereby substantially reducing its ability to monitor the situation in the Russian Arctic.

Certain changes have occurred in the military policy of NATO in the Arctic, however, most of NATO’s Cold War-era military structures in the Arctic remain intact. US air force base in Reykjavik (Iceland) was withdrawn, but its military functions were transferred to the Icelandic staff. The alliance has reformed some of its northern military structures to transfer their functions to individual member-states. The regional command AFNORTH in Stavanger has been closed down and its mission handed over to the functional structures in Brunssum, the Netherlands (Joint Force Command) and Britain’s Northwood (Maritime Command).

A new command (Allied Command Transformation) has been created, with the headquarters in Norfolk, the U.S., and branches in Stavanger (Norway) and Bydgoszcz (Poland). NATO member-states take turns to dispatch their military airplanes to patrol the territories of Iceland and the Baltic states. They are tasked to ensure the member-states’ security by “hard power” methods or by military means. Military exercises are staged in the region systematically to keep the NATO troops combat-ready, despite the fact that the current strategic concept of NATO does not mention the Arctic.

The USA unilaterally withdrew from the anti-ballistic missile treaty. In addition to the U.S. missile defense, the alliance is deploying radars and tracking stations of the Active Layered Tactical Ballistic Missile Defense System in Alaska, Greenland and Northern Canada, not to mention other areas, including those in some of Eastern European countries. American references to threats posed by Iran and North Korea to justify such actions were not convincing for Russia. All this happened before the crisis in Ukraine. It is obvious that to ensure its security, Russia was forced to respond.

Although in the military sphere Russia had completed the era of confrontation and competition in the Arctic with the particular «superpower» and with NATO alliance and refocused its activities on ensuring national security from threats emanating around the perimeter of its borders, further opening of the Russian Arctic for international cooperation raised the need to change the military situation in the Russian Arctic, created after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Russia ratified the UN Convention on the law of the sea (UNCLOS) in 1997. In accordance with the UNCLOS, Russia and other Arctic coastal states–parties of the Convension were granted the right to 200-mile continental shelf and respective exclusive economic zones in the Arctic with their mineral, hydrocarbon and biological resources. The need to exercise a protection of their borders and a control over the use of resources in areas subject to national jurisdiction of coastal Arctic states, including Russia, has increased significantly. These functions in other Arctic coastal states, which are NATO members, are performed by the national armed forces. The necessity to perform similar functions related also to Russia, which did not have at that time any special armed forces for operation in the Arctic. They have to be created.

The American and Canadian Arctic strategies rightly point out that under the new conditions in the Arctic the threat of the use of its freezing spaces for cross-border smuggling of weapons, drugs, for illegal immigration and various activities of organized crime has increased. This fully applies to the vast spaces of the Russian Arctic. This required not only the restoration of border control of these spaces, but also the strengthening of international cooperation of the Arctic states in this field.

The gradual revival of navigation in the Arctic along the Northern sea route and adjacent routes demanded ensuring security of ships and their crews, taking preventive measures against piracy, equiping the route for navigation of both civilian and military ships between the European and Asian parts of the country, establishing special forces providing search and rescue operations in the Arctic. Also in this sense Russia and its armed forces were in need for effective discharge of these vital functions. These forces were created by Russian Ministry of defence, Ministry of transport and Ministry of emergency situations.

Russia is co-founder of the Council of the Baltic sea states (CBSS), established in 1992, of the Council of the Barents Euro-Arctic region (BEAC), established in 1993, and of the Arctic Council (1996). Within the framework of multilateral cooperation within these structures, operating on consensus basis, the member states signed several important international agreements, including those concerning search and rescue operations in the Arctic. The need for the effective performance of these functions requires creation of well-equiped special forces, able to perform such functions effectively. In accordance with the signed agreement of the Arctic states Russia is creating 10 specialized centers for search and rescue in the Russian Arctic. Special trainings of these forces with participation of other Arctic states are being held repeatedly.

Responding to all the mentioned above needs, Russia has decided to create a specialised Arctic units – two brigades numbering 18 thousand peoples, capable to execute successfully these functions. Many Western experts have become in this context to write about “militarization” of the Arctic, initiated by Russia, building up its military muscle, etc., refusing to take into consideration the size of the territories and spaces in which these two brigades are called to perform these functions. It is not possible to accept this kind of propaganda as serious and the arguments provided as conscientious.

The significantly changed situation in the Arctic after the end of Cold War resulted in the Russian-Norwegian agreement on the delimitation of the continental shelf in the Barents sea and in the Russian-Norwegian agreement on visa-free regime in the border areas. The Norwegian governmental program for the development of the Northern regions of the country, named Russia the key partner in its implementation. As far as I know, this program is not canceled up to now.

All the permanent members of the Arctic Council published their Arctic doctrines, identifying the priorities of their policies in this area, but none of them referred to the confrontation or rivalry with Russia and to any need to involve NATO to the decision-making process on the Arctic issues. On the contrary, they emphasized the need for national efforts to secure their interests in the Arctic and for cooperation with Russia.

It is obvious that without engagement and loyal participation of Russia in cooperation with other Arctic countries, given the size of its area of responsibility and jurisdiction in the Arctic, various joint projects in which they are vitally interested, can not be successfully implemented. At the same time, the involvement of non-Arctic NATO allies can provide them with a voice in Arctic affairs, which in the normal situation they do not have.

At the Ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in Kiruna in May 2013, the Foreign Ministers of the eight Arctic states have unanimously confirmed that the Arctic is transformed into “an area of unique international cooperation». The Declaration «Vision for the Arctic», adopted by them, says, that «the further development of the Arctic region as a zone of peace and stability is at the heart of our efforts», that «there is no problem that we cannot solve together through our cooperative relationships on the basis of existing international law and good will» and that, finally, they remain committed “to the peaceful resolution of disputes generally». It does not look like that other Arctic states perceive Russia as the direct military threat for them.

On top of it, while stating that “decisions at all levels in the Arctic Council are the exclusive right and responsibility of the eight signatories to the Ottawa Declaration» and expressing their commitment to continue their work to strengthen the Arctic Council to meet new challenges and opportunities for cooperation, and pursue opportunities to expand the Arctic Council’s roles from policy-shaping into policy-making», all Arctic states confirmed their determination to continue to work together with Russia to protect their interests in the Arctic. One may, of course, refer to the fact that these statements have been made before the Ukrainian crisis and the joining of Crimea to Russia in accordance with the will of its population, but these statements are not disavowed until now by any Arctic state.

Currently, we are witnessing a growing wave of accusations of Russia in «aggressive» behavior and «revanchism». These accusations look weird on the part of the leaders of the United States, member-states of NATO and EU, whose total military budget is several times higher than the military budget of Russia (only the US military budget is equal to about a third of military spending in the world and is growing every year regardless of the Ukrainian crisis). In these circumstances, one should either deprive the Russian leadership in availability of common sense and sanity or conclude that the West is talking about «aggressiveness» of Russia in order to hide concrete political goals to be achieved under the cover of such talks. Professor Michael Byers from the University of British Columbia refused to imagine Russia at war with the other Arctic nations and rightly called the cost of militarization of the Arctic “prohibitive”. He called Russia «an indispensable partner in the Arctic».

Speaking about the “aggressiveness” of Russia, it is natural to ask, why the sanctions against Russia, imposed by the U.S., EU, NATO and other allied countries, do not directly touch the Arctic, activities of the Arctic Council and its programmes and agreements. If Russia is really «aggressive», as claimed by Western political and military leaders and their mass media, why the cooperation with «aggressive» Russia in the Arctic is gaining strength even during anti-Russian sanctions and why these sanctions are not military in nature, but mainly selective political, financial and technological ones?

During these anti-Russian sanctions the continuos implementation of the old and preparation of new cooperation agreements between the Arctic states did not interrupt, the Arctic coastal states, including Russia, agreed to prevent illegal fishing in the central part of the Arctic, commercial companies of the Arctic states established the Arctic business council, coast guards of the Arctic states agreed to deepen their cooperation.

The United States currently holds the rotating Chairmanship of the Council. In June 2016 the meeting of the heads of coast guards services of the Arctic states in Boston established the frameworks for the development of a multi-year strategic plan, avenues to share information, highlight best practices, identify training exercises, and conduct combined operations in the Arctic. The heads of Arctic nations’ coast guards also agreed to have yearly meetings of experts and principals. «We were happy to have the Russians around the table and work collaboratively», – said Mario Pelletier, Deputy Commissioner of Operations for the Canadian Coast Guard in this context.

On September 28 the White House hosted the first-ever Arctic science ministerial meeting to talk through near-term science priorities and create conditions to promote long-term international cooperation on Arctic research. All of the members of the Arctic Council, including Russia, attended the meeting. Foreign Affairs Minister of the Canadian Trudeau government Stéphane Dion put recently Russia at the centre of Canada’s northern policy. Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Dion’s parliamentary secretary, in a speech at the Carleton University, written by St. Dion, said that both countries control three-quarters of the north, so working with Russia in the Arctic is “eminently sensible” for Canada.

Under Chairmanship of the United States the Arctic Council’s Senior Arctic Officials (SAOs) and indigenous Permanent Participant organizations (PPs) met in Portland on 5-6 October 2016. The current Chair of the Senior Arctic Officials U.S. Ambassador David Balton called SAO meetings to be «critical to the collective management and decision-making of the Arctic Council». Russia continues to be the integral part of this collective management and decision-making.

This helps me to conclude: When the underlying interests of states overlap, as is the case in the Arctic, all the hypothetical security threats and intimidation by «aggressiveness» of Russia lose their meaning and countries are working together to ensure their common interests. Whipping up war hysteria on the basis of artificially created threats is contrary to the cooperation of all Arctic states, creates obstacles for the cooperation of all Arctic states and does not find support among them. This is the reason why the Arctic remains the area of fruitful cooperation of them.

 

 

 

 

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