Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Moscow Lacks an Arctic Strategy, Sukhankin Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, May 11 -- A strategy is not simply an enumeration of goals. Rather it involves developing a plan which brings those preferences into line with resources, either by changing the preferences or changing the resources available.  If those with particular preferences don’t have or can’t mobilize sufficient resources to support them, they don’t really have a strategy at all.

            That is often forgotten in discussions of Moscow’s statements where declaration of intent is all too often equated with the existence of a strategy when in fact there are insufficient resources to carry it out. And it is typically forgotten in discussions about Moscow’s plans for projecting power into the Arctic.

            But Sergey Sukhankin, a Russian scholar who teaches in Canada, reminds that this understanding of strategy is critical and that using this definition rather than the spectral one Moscow proposes and many accept means that Russia at the present time does not have an Arctic “strategy” (

            After ignoring the Arctic between the end of Soviet times and 2007, Moscow has issued a series of “strategy” documents about the region, emphasizing its importance to Russia economically (because of the Northern Sea Route which it expects to carry progressively more cargo) and geopolitically (because of the other countries on the Arctic littoral.

            Often, the analyst says, these Russian claims and plans have sparked genuine concern internationally; but “the strengthening of the military presence, selective investments in petroleum projects and the expectation of mayor foreign investment hardly can be called a full-blown strategy.”

            None of these often bombastic documents “provides a solution for such important issues as the decaying and generally insufficiently developed infrastructure, the rapid contraction of human capital and the stagnation of the standard of living” in the region.  In most cases, Moscow takes as facts what in fact are no more than hopes.

            “Statistics clearly show that the region remains unattractive and suffers from an outflow of workers. There is no evidence that this situation is changing or will. Yet another serious problem is the practically complete lack of supportive land-based infrastructure” such as roads or railways.

            All these things make it more difficult not only to attract foreign investment but even from domestic sources.  As of now, “the commercial attractiveness” of the Northern Sea Route is anything but assured.  And thus, “Russia in fact has not developed an Arctic strategy in the full and complex understanding of this word.”

            As a result, in the short and medium term at least, the Arctic will produce limited profits for Russia and will be used primarily by the defense ministry to frighten other countries and extract more money from Moscow for itself, Sukhankin concludes. The Arctic is thus not likely to become anytime soon the miracle land that the Kremlin regularly suggests it could be.

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