Russia signalled its determination to win the race for the Arctic’s mineral wealth yesterday by announcing plans to establish military bases along its northern coastline.
A new national security strategy includes plans to create army units in Russia’s Arctic region to “guarantee military security in different military-political situations.”
The strategy, approved by President Medvedev, declares the Arctic to be Russia’s most important arena for “international and military security” in its relations with other countries.
A coastguard unit of the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, is planned to advance Russia’s policy in the region. The strategy calls for the creation of an intelligence network to provide “effective control of economic, military, (and) ecological activity” in the Arctic.
Russia is also preparing legislation to impose tight controls over navigation through its northern coasts as the reduction in Arctic sea ice makes the route more commercially appealing to shipping.
The strategy document produced by Russia’s Security Council says that pursuit of the region’s oil and gas resources is a vital national objective in the years to 2020.
Estimates suggest that the polar region contains billions of tons of oil and gas, which are increasingly accessible as the ice cap melts.
It says that the measures would help to advance Russia’s ownership of a vast extension of the Arctic shelf off its northern coast. A team of Russian explorers dramatically staked the Kremlin’s claim to the area, which is the size of Western Europe, by becoming the first to dive to the Arctic seabed in two mini-submarines in 2007.
They planted a titanium flag on the ocean floor and brought back soil samples to bolster Russia’s argument that the Lomonosov Ridge is an extension of its territory. Russia is planning to lodge a bid for the area, measuring 1.2 million square kilometers, with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea later this year.
The Kremlin’s case is challenged by the other Arctic states – Canada, Norway, Denmark and the United States. Despite Moscow’s insistence that it was not “militarising the Arctic”, the new strategy comes as friction with its rivals increases.
Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister, complained on Monday about Norwegian military exercises based on “a conflict over access to resources”.
Jonas Gahr Store, Norway’s Foreign Minister, retorted that his country was not responsible for the growth of military activity in the region and that attention should focus on Russia. He said that Norway, a Nato member, had witnessed an expansion of Russian military operations involving warships, aircraft and submarines.
Dmitri Rogozin, Russia’s envoy to Nato, yesterday ruled out any co-operation in the Arctic with the military alliance. “If someone believes that one will be able to breathe easier in the Arctic if countries that have nothing to do with the Arctic region become involved, in my opinion such a position is totally absurd,” he said.
“This topic will not be included in the agenda of co-operation between Russia and Nato … there is nothing for them to do there.”
The scientist who led the expedition to the Arctic seabed warned this week that Russia would not “stand still” in the competition for the region’s resources. Artur Chilingarov, who is the Kremlin’s special representative for the Arctic, said that Russia would assert its national interests.
Stephen Harper, Canada’s Prime Minister, said last year that he was afraid Russia could act outside international law to secure its claims.
Mr Chilingarov insisted that Russia would respect international treaties but added: “Look at the map. Who is there near by? All our northern regions are in or come out into the Arctic. All that is in our northern, Arctic regions. It is our Russia.”
The Kremlin is preparing legislation that will impose tough restrictions on the Northern Sea Route. It would allow Russia to block foreign military ships, levy fees on shipping and require vessels to be escorted.