MOSCOW. (Ilya Kramknik, RIA Novosti military commentator) - Russia is considering strengthening its foothold in the Arctic, including in the military field, to uphold its strategic interests in the region.
To achieve that, the government drafted The Fundamentals of State Policy on the Arctic up to 2020. The document was debated by the country's Security Council on March 27, and approved by President Dmitry Medvedev.
The rich natural resources of the Arctic are the key reason why different countries show interest in the region. Their disputes concern not only the fields located in the official neutral waters, but can sometimes also involve assets located in a country's exclusive economic zone, especially offshore.
It is clear that demands for free and equal access to Arctic energy resources will soon routinely accompany any negotiations between the parties concerned.
Global warming, formerly a purely scientific phenomenon recently upgraded to a long-term political and economic factor, is opening up great possibilities for the exploration of the Arctic. The melting of the ice and longer shipping seasons ease access to mineral and biological resources of the Arctic Ocean. These changes are the reason why the region's countries are becoming increasingly active, desperate to strengthen their positions in the face of inevitable disputes over the right to use the offshore areas and extract the riches they contain.
Global warming has another important consequence: With the ice melted and all-year-round traffic along the Northern Sea Route (probably with icebreaker assistance in winter), there will be a new strategic shipping route linking Europe and Asia. The importance of this route will dim the discovery of Suez and Panama canals, taken together. The transport potential of the Arctic is huge.
The Northern Sea Route is the shortest link between West Europe and East Asia. A ship travelling along this route, for example, from the Netherlands to Japan, will cover about 14,000 kilometers, compared to 20,000 (the length of the route along the Suez and across the Indian Ocean) or 24,000 (the Atlantic, the Panama Canal, and the Pacific). Large ships that cannot pass through either canal have to go around Africa covering nearly 27,000 kilometers.
Increased traffic along the Northern Sea Route will require development of the coast infrastructure along the length of the route, especially in the middle stretch, from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait, mostly running along undeveloped lands.
This will also require tighter military and border control to check any attempt to abuse the freedom of the seas. Busy maritime traffic if often accompanied by smuggling, poaching and piracy.
Growing seaports will need greater protection, as they will become attractive military targets. Inland Arctic will for the first time be viewed as a potential invasion target.
The Russian Security Council's decision to maintain a military force and Russian border guards in the Arctic is aimed at enhancing such protection. To control Arctic regions, an effective coast guard system should be established, as well as a developed border infrastructure in Russia's Arctic zone, and strong and well-equipped military contingents in those military districts. Russia's Northern and Pacific Fleets will shoulder the greatest burden of protecting the Arctic and sub-Arctic areas.
Speaking of Russia's chances of successfully defending its influence and interests in the Arctic, this country currently has the strongest starting position in the impending race for the Arctic. Russia controls the Northern Sea Route and has certain infrastructure along the way, including cities and seaports which could be used as bases for further development.
Finally, Russia today has the greatest military potential in the Arctic, as its Northern Fleet is stationed there along with several air force units. These forces are far superior to those other countries of the region could deploy in the Arctic.
This is a solid basis that could be used as a weighty argument to support Russia's claims to expand its Arctic territory.The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.