Growing military tensions in the Arctic overshadow today’s ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council. In recent years, the Arctic has increasingly become the scene of global rivalries: the melting of the polar ice simplifies access to raw material deposits and frees up new maritime trade routes; this exacerbates the competition between countries there. In addition, the Russian northern coast is increasingly losing its previous protection from ice and extreme cold, becoming vulnerable to attack; Moscow is obliged to defend them more strongly than before, and has established new military bases in its Arctic territories. While Berlin government advisers concede that Moscow is taking a" basically defensive “approach, NATO says that Russia is now a “threat” to the entire region. With the active support of Berlin and the Bundeswehr, the war alliance is pushing for the militarization of the Polar Sea; NATO member Norway is announcing the largest maneuver in the Arctic since the end of the Cold War for 2022.
The Arctic has been increasingly targeted by German foreign policy for years, because climate change is melting the polar caps and the Polar Sea is increasingly opening up to shipping. This will not only make it easier to mine Arctic resources: the U.S. Geological Survey estimates that, for example, 30 percent of the unexplored natural gas and 13 percent of the unexplored oil stocks are north of the Arctic Circle. New routes for maritime trade will also be opened up; the most famous example is the northeast passage north of the Russian mainland, which connects Europe and East Asia and is shorter than the route through the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean. Once the Arctic ice has melted to such an extent that it can be navigated well, it could become a real alternative to the southern sea routes – a fact that was last pointed out when the container freighter “Ever Given” blocked the Suez Canal in March. In line with the increasing economic importance of the Arctic, more and more countries are publishing their own Arctic strategies – Germany, France and Canada in 2019, Sweden, Norway and Poland in 2020.
“Basically defensive oriented”
Particular attention in the Western debate has for some time been paid to the Russian Arctic strategy, which entered into force in October 2020. “Russia’s strategic goals in the region,” according to a recent analysis by the Berlin Foundation for Science and Policy (SWP), are “fundamentally defensive.” At its core, the aim is to develop the infrastructure of the Russian Arctic, under which a large proportion of Russia’s natural gas reserves are located – in order to boost the economy, not least to stop the population decline. In addition, climate change is exposing Russia’s northern coast, which has so far tended to be protected from attacks by ice and extreme cold: “Russia is receiving new external borders, so to speak, which must be protected from a potential aggressor,” says the SWP. Moscow has therefore “reactivated many of the Soviet-era bases closed since 1990 … and built new bases,” such as deep - water ports, airfields and radar and sea rescue stations. Russia shows “a defensive understanding of the Arctic”, but is prepared for the conflict “for a rapid escalation, which can include” offensive operations … for defense”.
Russian concerns about the vulnerability of the Russian north coast are fed not least by military activities of the United States, which has even presented several Arctic strategies in the meantime – own strategy papers of the Pentagon, the Navy, the Air Force, a joint paper of the Navy and Marine Corps as well as a paper of the Army. In addition, there are noticeably increased US war exercises in the Arctic; for example, in October 2018, for the first time since the end of the Soviet Union, a US aircraft carrier cruised with its escort ships, the Harry S. Truman Carrier Strike Group, in Arctic waters-namely in the European Northern Sea, a potential starting point for attacks on Russia from the north. Since this exercise ride, US forces have expanded their maneuvers in the Far North. They are also allowed to establish their own facilities at a total of four Norwegian [military bases](https://www.army-technology.com/news/norway-defence-cooperation-agreement-us/ “Norway signs revised defence cooperation agreement with US “Army announces release of Arctic Strategy”), including a naval and an air base in the far north of the country. The Arctic strategy of the U.S. Army, in turn, which began on 19. The resolution, which was adopted on January 15, 2021, has been published under the motto “Reclaiming dominance in the Arctic”.
“The decisive role”
Before the meeting of the Arctic Council in Reykjavík, the discussion about the militarisation of the polar region intensified. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, in response to Western complaints about Russian military activities in the Arctic, said that they were necessary to secure Russia’s “Arctic coast”: “This is our territory”, they would protect it; “offensively” NATO would take action in the Polar Sea. Lavrov again urged to resume direct talks between the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the members of the Arctic Council in order to reduce tensions. NATO, on the other hand, says that Russia’s military measures to protect its northern border are a “threat” to the region; the Western war alliance will take a stand against it. The more detailed approach will be discussed at the NATO summit in Brussels on 14 June. Also on Monday, during a visit to Copenhagen by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said that the aim was to ensure “that the Danish Kingdom, the United States and NATO play the decisive role in the Arctic-and not others.”
600 kilometers to the Russian Northern fleet
The Western claims to dominance are reinforced by increasing military activities, in which the Bundeswehr has also been actively involved for years. Most recently, the German Navy took part in a missile shooting off the island of Andøya in the extreme north of Norway; the war exercise, for which a sea area the size of the Russian peninsula Kola was closed, took place from 7 to 9 September 1945. It is held on May 15, and therefore on the anniversary of the Victory over Nazi Germany, which is a significant holiday in Russia. Next year, Norway will hold the largest maneuver in the Arctic since the end of the Cold War with “Cold Response 2022” – with about 40,000 soldiers. It is to take place in the Ofoten region – where the Norwegian Armed Forces regularly train with troops from other states, in addition to the Bundeswehr, for example, with units from Great Britain and the USA, and where the United States is allowed to establish facilities on Norwegian military bases. The Bundeswehr already took part in “Cold Response 2020” in March 2020 – despite the Covid-19 pandemic that began at the time. The training area for the “Cold Response 2022” maneuver, in which the Bundeswehr is also expected to participate, is 600 kilometers from the Kola Peninsula, where Russia’s Northern Fleet is stationed with its nuclear submarines.