Russian military presence in Arctic will grow in 2014. Source: PhotoXPress
Vladimir Putin has ordered for a military force to be set up in the Artic next year. “Russia is actively exploring this promising region, is returning to it, and should use all possible channels to protect its security and national interests,” the president said at a meeting with senior military commanders this week.
Putin went on to add that this year Russia had begun to restore seven airfields in the Arctic, which had been left abandoned after the break-up of the Soviet Union, and that by the end of the year it would put contracts in place to refurbish two more airfields. The president also thanked all those who had taken part in restoring the Russian military base on the New Siberian Islands between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea. That archipelago, according to him, is “crucial for monitoring the situation throughout the Arctic.”
Putin's statement came a week after Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper ruled to include the North Pole into Ottawa's seabed claim to be filed with the UN Commission on the Law of the Sea. In addition, according to the Canadian media,
Ottawa intends to hold large-scale research of the Arctic Ocean seabed near the Lomonosov Ridge, an underwater ridge of continental crust running from Canada and Greenland via the North Pole towards the New Siberian Islands.
The territorial dispute around the Lomonosov Ridge, which involves Russia, Canada and Denmark, is of key importance when it comes to the possible extension of the exclusive economic zone of each of these countries. Under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the size of a country's exclusive economic zone (200 nautical miles from the coast) can be extended to 350 miles if the country in question provides sufficient evidence that the seabed beyond the 200-mile zone is a natural extension of its continental shelf.
The dispute is not so much for land itself, as for the oil and gas fields that may be found in the Arctic, although the economics of developing these fields in the adverse weather conditions of the polar region pose many questions.
Still, according to the US Geological Survey, territories beyond the North Pole may contain up to 30 percent of the world's gas and 13 percent of the world's oil reserves. These reserves are essential for Russia in order to continue its long-term economic development. In the estimates of the country's Ministry of Natural Resources, as of early 2012, Russia had enough oil and gas potential to meet its economic requirements just for the next 30 years.
Experts believe that it is the need to defend its economic interests in the Arctic and to ensure security for companies which plan to work in the Arctic Ocean that is behind the Russian authorities' ambition to increase the country's military presence in the region. According to military observer Dmitri Litovkin, there are no actual military threats for Russia in the Arctic, so the decision to deploy a military contingent there is aimed at removing future threats related to territorial disputes.
“The state is establishing a platform on which companies could develop mineral resources,” Litovkin said. “Only the state can guarantee, say, to Gazprom that it will be able to produce oil and gas on that territory undisturbed. There are oilfields in the Arctic, like the Shtokman field that Russia and Norway have claims to; the strategically important Northern Sea Route from Europe to Asia, which needs to be controlled, passes through the Arctic; nickel supplies run through there too.”
Litovkin added that last year the Russian government organized a series of expeditions to collect geological data to prove that the Russian continental shelf is an extension of the Lomonosov Ridge. “Those expeditions have proven that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of the Russian continental shelf, therefore the Russian border goes much farther into the ocean than originally thought. The United States, Canada and Greenland did not accept those findings because that seabed is rich in mineral resources that could be mined in future,” Litovkin said.
Most experts do not expect territorial disputes to grow into armed confrontation. “I don't think that things will go as far as military action, but the Russian leadership's thinking is the stronger Russia's military potential in the Arctic is, the fewer causes there are for a military conflict,” deputy head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis Aleksandr Khramchikhin was quoted by the Gazeta.ru news website as saying.
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