Monday, February 5, 2018

Western Sanctions Could Block Russian Efforts to Dominate Arctic

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 5 – In few other sectors is there a greater likelihood that Western sanctions can directly affect the Kremlin’s efforts to project power beyond Russian borders than in the Arctic Ocean where Moscow’s ability to do so depends on Western investment and on the willingness of other countries to use the Northern Sea Route, according to Iogann Vais.

            The Moscow correspondent says that Moscow’s drive to achieve “complete control over the Arctic” has not received the same attention as its aggression against Ukraine and military action in Syria but may have even greater long-term consequences. That is why the possibility US sanctions may block it is to critical to the future (

            Moscow’s interest in controlling the Arctic is based on its calculations that the region contains 58 percent of the oil and gas on the world’s sea beds, some 90 to 100 billion barrels of oil an dup to 15 trillion cubic meters of gas, increasingly important bio resources, and the key to trade between China and Europe via the Northern Sea Route, passage across which is 15 days less than via the Suez Canal.

            In support of its drive, Moscow has built an entirely new port at Sabetta on the eastern shore of the Yamal peninsula, opened new military camps and airports in six regions of the Arctic and announced plans for 13 more airdromes and 10 radio location facilities, put in service two new rocket coastal systems, and renewed plans to build a northern railway.

            But the most important of Moscow’s actions, still far from complete, is the expansion of its icebreaker fleet.  At present, it has the largest such fleet in the world, ten in all of which six are in service, and has begun construction of three new super-ice breakers capable of moving through ice as thick as three meters. They are scheduled to come on line in the next decade.

            Moscow insists that all its action are peaceful, but many in the West are skeptical about that. And a special joint commission of the US Congress and the Council of Europe are currently examining Russia’s program and considering whether it should fall under special sanctions.  Such restrictions could severely restrict Russia’s plans.

            The commission has in its possession more than two terabytes of classified Russian information on its Arctic program, Vais says, that were given to the body by a former employee of the Polar Procuracy of the Russian Federation that was established only in March 2017.  That suggests the data are very current.

            Members of the commission, he continues, have already expressed skepticism on the basis of this documentation that Russia’s plans in the Arctic are exclusively or even primarily peaceful, noting that Russian submarines can make use of much of the Kremlin’s Arctic program and be in a position to sink Western or Chinese shipping almost at will. 

That very threat alone constitutes a serious challenge, one that sanctions, which would restrict Western investment in various Russian projects and thus prevent the Kremlin from moving funds to its military efforts in the north, could forestall.

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