By Brett Daniel Shehadey
Special Contributor for In Homeland Security
Russia is weaponizing the Arctic Circle and sending heavy military assets to secure a priority strategic geopolitical zone. They have already created the new Russian Arctic Joint Strategic Command, moved in military forces and equipment and planned construction of air bases and new brigade formations.
The motive is clearly for greater control of the Russian northern corridor and defense of the Russian sea routes and Arctic claims; especially the assured access of up to 30 percent of the world’s natural gas, 15 percent of its remaining oil reserves and 20 percent of its liquid natural gas stores.
According to Russia’s Sputnik News, S-400 Triumph surface-to-air defense systems were installed in the Arctic Circle to support its Northern Fleet. The S-400 Triumph missiles have a maximum range of 250 miles and can reach an attitude of almost 19 miles. Russia plans on linking nine Triumphs in the arctic. Additionally, Russia has reinforced its positions in Kaliningrad and Crimea.
According to Business Insider, “Russia is constructing 10 Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deep-water ports, 13 airfields and 10 air-defense radar stations across its vast Arctic coast.”
According to IHS Jane’s 360, Russia’s Northern advance plans construction of 14 operational air bases by 2016 and 10 to be constructed by the end of this year. It is expected that these air bases will house MiG-31 fighters and Mil Mi-8 helicopters.
The Alaskan Dispatch reported that Arthur Chilingarov, President Vladimir Putin’s envoy to the Arctic Frontiers conference said that the cooperation with other Arctic states is an important part of Russian strategy. He claimed that there are no tensions felt in the arctic.
Chilingarov is well-known for his national exploration exploits; particularly, planting the Russian flag at the bottom of the sea under the North Pole. He is reported as working for Rosneft after his time as presidential aide for Arctic and Antarctic affairs. In this case, one is led to believe the opposite of what he guarantees.
In spite of an Arctic Counsel and the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, China and other state claims of the Arctic, Russia’s proximity, firepower and commitment is most decisive in the de facto territorial control, if left unchallenged. And therein lays the difficulty of challenging a buildup too far away for many states from their mainland to address Russia’s advance.
Russia’s territorial expansion in the Arctic is assured; however, the present economic and political instabilities in Moscow are such that these gains may fall short of any saving grace.