Russia’s Policies towards a Changing Arctic

Dr Andrew Foxall

The true scale of Russia’s military activities in the Arctic have been revealed in a new policy paper from The Henry Jackson Society’s Russia Studies Centre.

Russia’s Policies towards a Changing Arctic describes Russia’s dramatic militarisation of the Arctic since 2014, as well as its attempts to exploit the region’s natural resources and prepare for possible conflict.

The report recommends that the UK urgently encourages NATO to adopt an Arctic strategy and ensure a common approach to the region’s security challenges.

The research reveals how Russia:

  • Has created new Arctic brigades; commissioned a new icebreaker fleet; re-opened Soviet-era military bases; and, deployed a sophisticated missile early-warning radar in the Arctic
  • Has established a new military district – Arctic Joint Strategic Command – to coordinate all its activities in the Arctic
  • Is restoring aerodromes in the Arctic, including the Rogachyovo airfield on Novaya Zemlya, and airfields in Tiksi, Vorkuta, Alykel, and Anadyr, and is building the massive ‘Arctic Trefoil’ military base
  • Has increased the number and intensity of military exercises in the region, including the March 2015 snap military exercise in the Arctic in which the Northern Fleet was called to “full combat readiness”, 38,000 ground troops were mobilised, and 110 aircraft, 41 warships, and 15 submarines were involved
  • Is regularly invading the sovereign airspace of other Arctic countries. For example, in 2014, Norway intercepted 74 Russian warplanes conducting air patrols on its coast – up from 58 interceptions in 2013

James Gray MP, member of the House of Commons Defence Select Committee (2015-2017), commentating on the report, said: “We can no longer ignore Russia’s growing military footprint in the Arctic. As the ice melts and new commercial opportunities emerge in the region, Britain and her allies must do more to ensure that the Arctic remains stable and peaceful.

“We must also deter any possible return to the Cold War use of the Arctic and the North Atlantic to interrupt the West’s supply routes.

“To achieve that, we in Britain must work with Russia, but we must also be alert to the threats that Russian military activity in the Arctic poses to our ability to exercise our interests, and to protect ourselves and our allies in the High North and North Atlantic.

“During the Cold War, the importance of securing our ‘Northern Flank’ was never in doubt. This report is a timely reminder that we must not let our attention there slip.”

Dr. Andrew Foxall, Director of the Russian Studies Centre at The Henry Jackson Society and author of the report, said: “Over the last decade Russia has expanded its military capacities and capabilities in the Arctic on a scale far greater in depth and scope than anything the West has done in the same period.

“Russia’s national interests in the Arctic explain certain activities, but not all. Some make it appear that Russia is engaged in a one-sided arms race in the region.

“There is little the UK can do to prevent Russia’s activities per se, but a more sophisticated assessment of these activities and their implications would aid the development of more effective policies.”

To read the report, click here.


Lost your password?

Not a member? Please click here