Russia creating new armed forces to boost power in arctic

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst   |   April 6, 2009 at 3:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, April 6 (UPI) -- Russia has launched a long-term program for the next 12 years to boost its security forces and military presence in the resource-rich Arctic Ocean.

The Kremlin has plans to slowly assemble a collection of military and security units in the arctic region, but it has no intention of militarizing the arctic, a spokesman for the Russian Security Council told RIA Novosti March 27.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RIA Novosti the Russian Security Council had published an official policy paper on its Web site titled "The fundamentals of Russian state policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and beyond."

The paper described the principles guiding Russian policy in the arctic and said this would involve establishing significant Russian army, border and coastal guard forces there "to guarantee Russia's military security in diverse military and political circumstances," the news agency said.

"However, it does not mean that we are planning to militarize the arctic. We are focusing on the creation of an effective system of coastal security, the development of arctic border infrastructure, and the presence of military units of an adequate strength," the council spokesman told RIA Novosti.

The report cited unnamed government sources in Moscow as saying that this new Arctic Group of Forces would come under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federal Security Service, or FSB.

The report also noted that the former head of the FSB, Nikolai Patrushev, is now the secretary of the Russian Security Council and was a forceful champion of Russia adopting an energetic, forward and "aggressive" state policy in the arctic.

RIA Novosti reported that the policy paper said the new structure and forces were necessary to "optimize the system of the comprehensive monitoring of the situation in the arctic." The security official reportedly said this increased security presence would also involve creating new border controls and checkpoints in Russia's arctic regions, coastal waters and airspace.

"The strategy envisions increased cooperation with neighboring countries in the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, illegal immigration and environmental protection," RIA Novosti said.

Russia has been increasingly involved in diplomatic conflicts with the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark over establishing its areas of control in the arctic. The issue is becoming a pressing one of high strategic importance because global warming is melting the arctic ice cap and allowing the rich resources of oil, natural gas and precocious minerals previously under impenetrable layers of miles of ice to become accessible for the first time, especially in the relatively shallow waters of the continental shelf off Russia's northern coast and island coastlines.

President Dmitry Medvedev told a September meeting of the Russian Security Council that the nation's exact areas of control and territory on its northern continental shelf under the Arctic Ocean needed to be carefully delineated as quickly as possible.

As we have previously reported in these columns, on that occasion Medvedev also described Russia's arctic continental shelf as essential for Russia's energy security and that it would serve as the main resource base for the nation through the 21st century. Medvedev said then that "about 20 percent of Russia's gross domestic product and 22 percent of Russia's exports are produced" in the arctic region, RIA Novosti said.

The report noted that the Kremlin had already sent two arctic expeditions to the Mendeleyev underwater mountain chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov Ridge in summer 2007 to strengthen its legal arguments for asserting control over the region. The Russian government has announced that it will send supporting documentary evidence to the United Nations about its territorial shelf claims by next year at the latest, the report said.

RIA Novosti said Russian diplomats would also make their case for creating new concentrations of military power in the arctic at a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council to be held later this month.

"The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to protect the unique nature of the arctic region. The intergovernmental forum comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States," the report said.

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