Moscow’s plans to strengthen its military presence in the Artic Circle make Neighboring countries nervous.
Although the crisis in Ukraine continues to focus attention on Russia’s western border, Moscow is seeking to exploit a more lucrative prize along its vast northern frontage: the Arctic Circle. Melting ice has opened up new transit routes and revealed previously inaccessible oil and mineral deposits. Facing a year of harsh economic constraints, securing exploitable energy reserves remains a top priority for Moscow. The planned militarization of the Arctic is already underway, and funding is secured through 2015 (the Ministry of Defense was the only Kremlin ministry not to be curtailed in the most recent budget.) With Russia aiming to consolidate its strength by the end of the year, surrounding countries are already reassessing their positions in the face of an overwhelming regional force.
Russia’s traditional view of the outside world is colored by a deep sense of insecurity and paranoia. This is best exemplified by the events in Ukraine, where the Kremlin acted to preserve its traditional geographic bulwark against the West. This pattern of protectionism is also apparent in Moscow’s current understanding and approach to the situation in the Arctic. Of the eight countries of the Arctic Council, five are members of NATO, fueling Russia’s suspicion that opposing forces are massing against it. Although friction with Kiev and the West has overshadowed Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic, Moscow’s long-term ambitions for the region are making other Arctic countries nervous, Norway in particular.
Russia is interested in the Arctic for a number of reasons, though natural resources and pure geopolitical imperatives are the major driving forces behind Moscow’s thinking. The Arctic contains an estimated 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 percent of its undiscovered oil reserves, regarded by Moscow as important sources of foreign investment that are critical to the country’s economic development.