This paper will analyze some of the recent events in the Arctic area and is not aiming full completeness. The growing activity in the Arctic region draw us attention to multiple states interests that intersect in the area.

On October 1, 2014, according to Itar Tass, Chief Commander of Russian Ground Troops Colonel-General Oleg Salyukov said that “two separate motor rifle Arctic brigades will be included in Russian army grouping in the Arctic region in 2015-2016. “A separate motor rifle brigade [in the Arctic region] is about to be formed in Murmansk region. A second motor rifle brigade will be set up in the course of 2016 in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area.” Earlier, a high-ranking source in Russian Defence Ministry told TASS that “a northern separate strategic command will be formed in the Arctic region on the basis of the Northern Fleet by the end of this year.”[1]

Russia’s New Military Bases in the Arctic

According to The Moscow Times, on September 8, 2014, the Russian military has begun building new military bases in the Arctic. “On Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, block-modules have been unloaded for the construction of military camps. The complex is being erected in the form of a star,” said Colonel Alexander Gordeyev, a spokesperson for the Eastern Military District.[2] The locations named by Gordeyev are deep into the Arctic circle in the Chukchi Sea, close to Alaska. It’s not the first action in this direction: on September 6, 2014, six vessels from the Russian North Fleet have left their base in Severomorsk in the Barents Sea and set off for the New Siberian Islands, where a military base under reconstruction will start functioning later this year. The North Fleet Commander, Admiral Vladimir Korolyov said that “The major goal of the latest expedition of the North Fleet ships to the Arctic is to deliver personnel, equipment and property of the North Fleet’s tactical group, which starting this year is going to fulfill military service at the New Siberian Islands on a permanent basis”. The six vessels currently on their way to the Arctic are submarine chaser “Admiral Levchenko”, two large landing ships – “St. George” and “Kondopoga”, the tanker “Sergey Osipov”, rescue tug “Pamir” and the lifting-and-mooring vessel “Aleksandr Pushkin”.[3]

On the other side, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said it is "urgent" that Canada do more to assert its claims to the North. “Canada has a choice when it comes to defending our sovereignty over the Arctic [..] We either use it or lose it. And make no mistake, this government intends to use it.”[4]

Russia’s Interests in the Arctic Region

There may be more than one interest for Russia in the area. The Arctic holds a mass of the world’s oil and gas deposits: “Russia’s state-run OAO Rosneft said a well drilled in the Kara Sea region of the Arctic Ocean with Exxon Mobil Corp. struck oil, showing the region has the potential to become one of the world’s most important crude-producing areas.”[5] Total deposits of hydrocarbons in the Arctic have been valued at over $1 trillion.

According to a document called “The fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the period up to 2020 and beyond” published on the Russian Security Council website[6] at the end of March 2009, among other strategic goals there is also “developing the transport and communication infrastructure in the region, particularly connected to the Northern Sea Route as a national, wholly integrated transportation route and a central element in maritime connections between Europe and Asia“[7]. On December 10, 2013, the Russian president Vladimir Putin told his defence chiefs “to concentrate on building up infrastructure and military units in the Arctic” because the region was again key to Russia's national and strategic interests, following a retreat in the post-Soviet period.[8] His comments were a direct and rapid riposte to Canada, a rival Arctic power following Canada’s application to the UN commission on the limits of the continental shelf to increase its nautical borders.

Recently, “on September 17 two Russian IL-78 refueling tankers, two Russian Mig-31 fighter jets and two Russian Bear long-range bombers Russian aircraft entered the United States' air defense identification zone (ADIZ), an area immediately beyond sovereign U.S. airspace, near U.S. and Canadian air space.”[9]

Beside Russia’s intention to make her presence felt in the area, a naval base in Arctic will create a strategic military point closer to Canada and the U.S. Sustaining this point of view there is the declaration of President Vladimir Putin at a Russian Security Council meeting on April 22, 2014, saying that it is important to “strengthen the naval component of the Federal Security Service (FSB) border guard group” and “at the same time, we should strengthen the military infrastructure. Specifically, I’m referring to the creation of a united system of naval bases for ships and next-generation submarines in our part of the Arctic”.[10]

Other Countries in the Arctic Region

According to United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, since 1982, “where a coastal State intends to establish, in accordance with article 76, the outer limits of its continental shelf beyond 200 nautical miles, it shall submit particulars of such limits to the Commission along with supporting scientific and technical data as soon as possible but in any case within 10 years of the entry into force of this Convention for that State. The coastal State shall at the same time give the names of any Commission members who have provided it with scientific and technical advice.”[11] Norway ratified the convention in 1996, Russia in 1997, Canada in 2003 and Denmark in 2004. All the countries launched projects to establish claims that certain sectors of the Arctic seabed should belong to their territories. None of the five Arctic nations – the U.S., Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark (via Greenland) – has laid full claim to the Arctic region. Russia has tried to extend its sovereignty, which requires an application to the United Nations that shows proof Russia's continental shelf reaches more than 230 miles into the Arctic Ocean. Canada has considered doing the same.[12]

After Russia, Canada has the largest land and sea area in the Arctic and attaches considerable importance to the aspect of sovereignty. “The Canadian strategy stresses that the Arctic is a key part of Canada’s identity. Consideration for Canada’s indigenous Arctic people has substantial influence on the Government’s position with respect to various Arctic issues. Canada also conducts substantial Arctic research. The country’s Arctic strategy is built on four pillars: exercising Canadian sovereignty, promoting economic and social development, protecting the Arctic environment and improving and devolving governance for Canadian Northerners.”[13]

But these aren’t the only interests that Canada pursues in the Arctic zone. According to Canadian Manufacturing, on October 1, 2014, Bob McLeod, the premier of the Northwest Territories, promoted an “Arctic Gateway” to carry oil through his region to international markets. “McLeod says oil could be shipped out from Tuktoyaktuk to Asia, Europe, or Canada’s east coast on existing infrastructure as early as next summer - and he says more elaborate year-round facilities could be set up within a few years.”[14]

Also, on September 19, 2014, Canada's National Defence tested remotely piloted vehicles in the extreme conditions found in the High Arctic. In December 2013 a briefing note to Defence Minister Rob Nicholson says the Royal Canadian Navy in 2010 approved a $258 million plan to build an Arctic base.[15] The base was supposed be operational by 2015 but the date has since been pushed back to 2017. Although it seems to be an response to Russia’s plans, as Rob Huebert, an Arctic expert at the University of Calgary says “that is the price of doing stuff in the North” and that Russia is spending heavily to increase its military presence in the Arctic. Previous economic plans as approving in 2010 by Canada's National Energy Board of plans to build a 740-mile pipeline to ship natural gas south from the Arctic[16] reveal the need to increase its presence in the area.

The Arctic Policy of the United States is oriented on research and environmental issues, but now, flaws in the infrastructure are being given more attention, such as the lack of ice-breakers and other facilities, particularly in Alaska. “At the centre of American interests laid security policy, preservation of the unique environment, the extraction of natural resources and other economic activities conducted in an environmentally sustainable manner as well as more in-depth scientific cooperation. The issue of free shipping without expensive transit costs has also been highlighted. Furthermore, it should be noted that the need to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is being highlighted in connection with the increased interest in the Arctic Ocean.”[17]

From an economic point of view, Russia’s state-run oil company Rosneft signed a strategic cooperation agreement for joint development of the three East Prinovozemelsky blocks in the Kara Sea in the autumn of 2011. But the latest sanctions put a stop on this: “the rules gave U.S. companies engaged in Arctic, deepwater, or shale oil exploration and production in Russia 14 days to halt operations. One project was immediately affected: Universitetskaya-1[18], the $700 million joint exploration project that Rosneft, the Russian state-owned oil company, is developing in the Arctic with ExxonMobil.”[19] On September 26, they struck oil, showing the region has the potential to become one of the world’s most important crude-producing areas.[20] Igor Sechin, chief executive officer of OAO Rosneft says he'll develop arctic oil with or without Exxon: “If Exxon is forced to stop its work, it does not mean that we will no longer cooperate with Exxon. Of course we will do it on our own and attract the necessary technologies and different partners who don’t have limitations on cooperation. But, as I said, we won’t stop working with Exxon. The project’s operator is our joint venture with Exxon and we’re not planning on changing the venture’s ownership structure. They will always have the possibility of returning to the project, as soon as the regulatory bodies allow.” He also added that “we are in contact with our American partners. There are exchanges on all levels including our legal department and other units. And of course we discussed these questions and we will act in strict compliance with the regulatory demands placed on the company.”[21]

This latest development regarding new Russian military base in Arctic region has some U.S. lawmakers worried about their country's own interests in the region. Lisa Ann Murkowski, the senior United States Senator from the State of Alaska said in a statement to National Journal that “while Russia's investment in military infrastructure is not necessarily a precursor to future hostility, it is more evidence that the United States is not appropriately stepping up its activities in the Arctic and investing in a region where commercial and international activities are increasing.”[22]

Every autumn for the last seven years, the United States, Canada, and Russia have conducted a military exercise together at the North Pole, near Alaska. During the mock scenario, fighter jets from all three countries intercept a "hijacked" commercial plane passing from Russian to American airspace. Not this year when something different took place. According to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the exercise was canceled by the U.S. Defense Department and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper because of Russia's intervention in Ukraine.[23] But there were two exercises in March 2014. One of them was a simulated attack against a Russian sub. Defense officials said they chose a Russian simulated sub as the target because that was the only other nation that operates in the Arctic. Moreover, these people said the exercise wasn't a signal that the U.S. sees a military conflict on the horizon. Russian officials didn't respond to a request to comment.[24]

In Norway, development in the High North, including the Arctic, has been the Government’s highest foreign policy priority since 2005. In 2009, the report “New Building Blocks in the North” identified seven priority areas: climate and the environment; monitoring-emergency response-maritime safety in northern waters; sustainable development of offshore petroleum and renewable marine resources; onshore business development; infrastructure; sovereignty and cross-border cooperation; and the culture and livelihoods of indigenous peoples.[25]

The amount for initiatives in the High North was a total of NOK 1.2 billion from which, a significant portion was earmarked for research. Cooperation with Russia played an important role in Norway’s Arctic policy. Norway is also promoting greater engagement in the Arctic by NATO and the Nordic Council of Ministers. The Norwegian Government intends to present an updated version of its strategy (“Towards the North”) shortly. In 2010, Jens Stoltenberg, the Norwegian Prime Minister at the time and currently NATO’s new secretary-general, negotiated a deal with Russia in that ended a four-decade dispute over their Arctic maritime borders and built a personal friendship with then-president Dmitry Medvedev.[26]

“Because Greenland and the Faroe Islands are also part of the Commonwealth of the Realm Denmark, the country has a special position in the Arctic. Denmark’s Arctic strategy is based on the aims of supporting and strengthening development in Greenland and maintaining the position of the United Kingdom of Denmark as an important actor in the Arctic.”[27]

In the coming years, Denmark will seek to settle territorial claims in the Arctic Ocean. Denmark has not prioritized having a military force in the North, not even when it comes to enforcing territorial sovereignty. According to Johannes Riber Nordby , commander in the Danish Navy and a security analyst with the Royal Danish Defence College “Denmark now finds itself in a situation in which it is confronted with a Russia that is seeking to make it plain that it is a great power of the Arctic, and that it has a variety of tools it can use to solidify its position. One of the ways it will do this is by pushing international law to the limit – but it will do this in order to give itself the best possible position in negotiations, not as a prelude to military action. Russia does not have an interest in a conflict in the North. Even so, Denmark must be prepared to respond should it find itself at odds with Russia. This will be especially relevant in the event that international legal decisions go against Moscow’s interests, or in situations in which states are left to sort out their differences through negotiation. With Russia in the process of redefining itself as a regional power in Europe and the Arctic, Denmark needs to consider what strategy it will pursue.”[28]

A new player emerged in the Arctic area: China.

Last year, China, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, and the European Union, thinking about their own economic opportunities, all applied for a seat at the Arctic Council, a forum of polar nations. But China does more than that. According to New York Times, recently, “hungry for energy, China has openly declared its Arctic ambitions, said Mr. Willy Ostreng, the president of the Norwegian Scientific Academy for Polar Research, noting that Beijing had invested in an icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, sent scientists to Svalbard to join teams of international researchers, and successfully lobbied to become an observer at the Arctic Council, a grouping of nations with Arctic land, including Norway, Russia and the United States. It has also tried, so far without success, to get permission to build a large radar antenna on Svalbard.”[29]

China has even declared itself a “near Arctic state,” a big stretch as even its northernmost region lies more than 1,000 miles from the Arctic Circle. But, Mr. Ostreng said, “When you are a big country, you can claim to be whatever you want, and people believe you.”[30]

Diane Francis, a Canadian journalist, author, and editor-at-large for the National Post Newspaper since 1998, “believes, according to a Wall Street Journal report, that in order to survive the competition among nations for economic supremacy in the Arctic, the US and Canada must integrate economically and politically. Much of her beliefs lie in the rise of state capitalism in China, which has bought and enabled large land openings in the north of Canada. The Chinese in Norway, the US, and Canada are making great efforts to use their sovereign wealth funds and state-owned enterprises to capture markets and resources to feed their vast energy needs.”[31]


During much of the Cold War the Arctic region was a buffer zone between the Soviet Union and North America. Now, the Arctic has become a center of activity, with everything from fishing vessels from China to nuclear submarines from Russia. Rob Heubert, the University of Calgary professor who has been watching this situation develop, says “there is a ‘façade of co-operation’ among countries with interests up there. But the façade conceals a menacing subtext, in which clashing military and economic interests are at play.”[32] While Russia has military and economic reasons, the other countries don’t want to lose the opportunity to secure their homeland. The new opportunities for oil and gas exploration on the sea bed also open the prospect of intervention from China, which has shown an increasing interest in the area. The future developments in the area may signal the changes in the status of power of the states involved in Arctic zone.


[1] “Russia forms 2 motor rifle brigades for Arctic army grouping - commander”, ITAR-TASS, October 1, 2014, at the Internet address

[2] “Russia Starts Building Military Bases in the Arctic”, The Moscow Times, September 8, 2014, at the Internet address

[3] “Russian Navy sends flotilla to Arctic to start permanent service at military base”, RT, September 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[4] “$3B for arctic ships: PM”, National Post, October 1, 2014, at the Internet address

[5]Ilya ARKHIPOV, Stephen BIERMAN and Ryan CHILCOTE, “Russia Says Arctic Well Drilled With Exxon Strikes Oil”, Bloomberg, September 27, 2014, at the Internet address

[6] Совет Безопасности Российской Федерации,

[7] Katarzyna ZYSK, “Russian national security strategy to 2020”, Geopolitics North, October 1, 2014, at the Internet address

[8]Luke HARDING, “Russia to boost military presence in Arctic as Canada plots north pole claim”, The Guardian, December 13, 2013, at the Internet address

[9] Ioana Corina JULAN, “News Alert No.31: U.S. jets intercept six Russian planes, including two strategic bombers”, September 20, 2014, at the Internet address  Morgenthau Center,

[10]“Russia to create united naval base system for ships, subs in Arctic - Putin”, RT, April 22, 2014, at the Internet address


[12] Marina KOREN, “Russia's Militarization of the North Pole Has U.S. Lawmakers on Edge”, National Journal, September 11, 2014, at the Internet address

[13] October 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[14]“N.W.T. premier in U.S. promoting ‘Arctic Gateway’ pipeline”, Canadian Manufacturing, October 1, 2014, at the Internet address

[15] Steve RENNIE, “Defence ministry drastically cut plan to overhaul Arctic base in attempt escape soaring price tag, documents reveal”, National Post, September 9, 2014, at the Internet address

[16] Phred DVORAK and Edward WELSCH, “Canada Approves Arctic Pipeline”, The Wall Street Journal, December 17, 2010, at the Internet address

[17] “Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic region”, 2011, at the Internet address

[18] The Universitetskaya-1 well drilling was scheduled for the summer-fall season, from August to October. Rosneft is the license holder; the Karmorneftegaz joint venture is the operator. The drilling rig contracted for the work is the semi-submersible West Alpha owned by North Atlantic Drilling. As part of the project, a complex of state-of the-art measures on providing commercial and ecological safety was elaborated. The unique technologies and equipment are used. More details at the Internet address

[19] Joe CARROLL, Indira A.R. LAKSHMANAN, and Alan KATZ , “Why Sanctions Won't Stop U.S. Oil Drilling in Russia”, Business Week, September 18, 2014, at the Internet address

[20]Ilya ARKHIPOV, Stephen BIERMAN and Ryan CHILCOTE, “Russia says an Arctic well it drilled with Exxon Mobil has just struck oil — a lot of it”, Financial Post, September 29, 2014, at the Internet address

[21]Ilya ARKHIPOV, Stephen BIERMAN and Ryan CHILCOTE, “Rosneft CEO Says He'll Develop Arctic Oil With or Without Exxon”, Bloomberg, October 3, 2014, at the Internet address

[22] Marina KOREN, “Russia's Militarization of the North Pole Has U.S. Lawmakers on Edge”, National Journal, September 11, 2014, at the Internet address

[23] “Tension with Russia causes cancellation of Alaska military air exercise”, News Miner, September 10, 2014, at the Internet address

[24]Julian E. BARNES, “Cold War Echoes Under the Arctic Ice”, Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2014, at the Internet address

[25] “Arctic strategy documents”, GeoPolitics in the High North, October 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[26]“ New NATO chief says wants constructive ties with Russia”, Reuters, October 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[27] “Sweden’s strategy for the Arctic region”, 2011, at the Internet address

[28]“ The Russians are coming. Is Denmark ready?”, Arctic Journal, September 17, 2014, at the Internet address

[29]Andrew HIGGINS, “A Rare Arctic Land Sale Stokes Worry in Norway”, New York Times, September 27, 2014, at the Internet address

[30] Ibidem

[31] “Eyes on the Arctic”, North Jersey , October 6, 2014, at the Internet address

[32] Doug FIR, “Clashing military, economic interests at play in the Arctic”, The Record, September 26, 2014, at the Internet address

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