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13 March 2017

Russia’s Arctic Military Activity is Record Breaking, and Worrying

One of the most disconcerting things about the current political outlook is Donald Trump’s bizarre relationship with Vladimir Putin and the rest of the Russian government. Trump has gone on record to say that he thinks the NATO sanctions placed on Russia after WWII are ‘obsolete’. Were they to be lifted, Russia would gain naval access to the north Atlantic, enabling them to disrupt navel routes between the US and Europe.
For the past 9 years, Russia have been building up their military presence in the Arctic, rebuilding old bases from the Cold War and testing new technology. In the past few months, this activity has increased drastically, and Russia have started tested military equipment further and further into the Arctic circle.

On Sunday (March 12th), they reached an incredible milestone – the first military expedition to reach the remote island of Kotelny in the Laptev Sea. To do this, the team had to travel 708 miles, carrying out more than 100 different technology tests along the way. Most of these tests were intended to determine how well modified vehicles and weapons would perform in the extremely low temperatures seen so far into the Arctic circle.

Russia have always vied for military dominance in the Arctic, but these reasoned developments have strengthened their grip on it more than ever. If conflict were ever to break out, they would be able to send out both naval and ground operations from almost anywhere along the Arctic coast.

Even beyond concerns about, well, all-out war, increased military presence means an increase in trade activity, and it’s probably safe to assume that all this heavy mechanised ground movement isn’t all that environmentally friendly. The Russian government have also stated that they plan to do more research and exploration in the Arctic, but that could mean almost anything.Conservation probably isn’t all that high on their list of priorities.

All-out war isn’t either, in fairness, but Russia do have a very clear motivation to tip the strategic balance in their favour. Putin knows that even the threat of military or naval action will allow them to get away with activity which the UN, NATO, the EU and the US would initially seek to oppose. With further access to the north Atlantic, they could potentially patrol the Greenland Iceland UK Gap, a stretch of sea with significant strategic value.

The main concern, though, is that if Russia continue to beef up their military presence in the Arctic, they could do untold amounts of damage to one of the Earth’s final frontiers. More than half of the human population in the Arctic is Russian, and while they currently exist in a delicate balance with the indigenous population, that could easily change. No country should be able to monopolise the Arctic, and certainly not one which primarily regards it in terms of military importance.

Callum Davies

Callum is a film school graduate who is now making a name for himself as a journalist and content writer. His vices include flat whites and 90s hip-hop.