Kennan Institute Discusses the Kremlin’s New Military Strategies in the Arctic

How will the Kremlin’s new Arctic strategy change foreign and security policy for NATO?

by Kamila Magiera

The Kremlin’s recent plans for advancement in the Arctic are a method of showcasing Russian capabilities and protection for hypothetical US ballistic attacks. (picture source: the Kremlin)

On March 26, the Kennan Institute, a think tank in Washington D.C. focused on the studies of Soviet and post-Soviet states, hosted a phone call event, “Russia’s Military Posture in the European Arctic” in part of the Ground Truth Briefing series. The virtual event was moderated by Matthew Rojansky, the Director of the Kennan Institute, and included contributors Mathieu Boulegue, a Research Fellow of Russia and Eurasia Programme at Chatham House, Katarina Kertysova, a George F. Kennan Fellow at the European Leadership Network, Michael Sfraga, the Director of Global Risk and Resilience Program and Director of the Polar Institute, and Michael Kofman, Global Fellow and Director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA Corporation.

Recent strategy and advancements by the Kremlin in the European Arctic showcase a possible global security challenge for Europe and the United States. In late January, the Kremlin introduced a new Russian Arctic strategy, heavily focusing on additional state gas and oil monopolies. Russian officials state that this new move is for “strengthening national sovereignty and territorial integrity, promoting peace, stability and mutually beneficial partnerships, high living standards for the regional population in the Arctic zone.” Within the next fifteen years, according to Alexandra Brzozowski of Euractiv, the Kremlin “intends to build at least 40 Arctic vessels, upgrade four regional airports, construct railways and seaports and facilitate massive exploitation of Arctic natural resources” (Brzozowski, 2020). However, with the increased presence of the Russian military in the Arctic, this may imply new security and foreign policy strategies for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and Western nations. 

Mathieu Boulegue of Chatham House begins by explaining that the Kremlin’s new plans are to show assertiveness and physical capabilities rather than for its stated purposes. He claims that “Russia sees the Arctic as a new challenge, because of the impact of climate change and therefore does what Russia does best, which is securitizing and militarizing things.” Boulegue believes that these advancements are not only to further the Kremlin’s defense against a hypothetical attack, specifically ballistic, from the United States but to also send a message to NATO, especially after their recent underwater activities. The Kremlin’s repeated performances of power show a consistent message to the world, signaling of their capabilities. 

Michal Kofman explains that although the Kremlin is attempting to level with the United States as a rival, the United States is more technologically advanced and that Russia is not near to the defense capabilities of the US. Instead, the Kremlin is motivated to protect Russia from possible future US attacks: “the Russian dream was to be able to militarily create blocking zones to keep strategic US forces from being able to deploy at a certain range, and from essentially being able to strike against the Russian homeland with long-range conventional missiles.” Although Moscow has upcoming plans, Kofman questions whether the Kremlin will have the capabilities to expand its military to the Arctic as a result of the upcoming recession because of COVID-19. Russia is isolated from the world, with the majority of its defense system manufactured internally, however, it may not be enough to expand its presence and momentum in the Arctic. 

If you would like to listen to the full event, visit the following website: https://www.wilsoncenter.org/event/ground-truth-briefing-russias-military-posture-european-arctic

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