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Russia: 2035

Russian President Vladimir Putin formally approved the Russian Federation’s long awaited fifteen year plan for the Arctic last week. The plan, titled “Basic Principles of Russian Federation State Policy to 2035” addresses Russia’s Arctic environmental policy, infrastructure development, and security position. Russia’s 2035 strategy details a more assertive approach to the High North, in keeping with recent increases in development and military activity.

Economic Development

The Northern Sea Route (NSR), also known as the Blue Silk Road, was emphasized as being critical to Russia’s liquified natural gas (LNG) extraction and transportation strategy. LNG and freight are critical for Arctic job creation, with Basic Principles 2035 laying out a target of 200,000 new jobs in the next 15 years.

Environmental Concerns

‘Basic Principles 2035’ takes a pragmatic approach to climate change. The document singles out the possibility of foreign powers contaminating Russia’s Arctic waters and makes general paeans to global warming. However, Russia departs from the usual platitudes to emphasize the potential economic gains from Arctic warming–longer periods ice-free allow for cheaper, faster trade and transit. These periods also enable energy extraction in previously inaccessible areas. Russia is rightly focused on oil and gas over renewables and poised to maintain its energy dominance with redoubled Arctic extraction.

Security Policy

Most of Russia’s highlighted security concerns are domestic troubles, such as a dearth of Arctic public-private partnerships, a lack of technological development, aging and nonexistent infrastructure, and demographic decline. However, Basic Principles 2035 also highlights the need for military modernization in the face of increased Arctic NATO activity. The cornerstone of Russia’s Arctic leap forward is the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) system, which hastens information transmission and models battles in real time to determine strategies and project outcomes. Russia also rightfully warns against ‘discrediting its economic claims’ in its territory, the largest of any Arctic state.

“Basic Principles of Russian Federation State Policy to 2035” is a continuation of previous Russian policy, and contains essentially no surprises. The sheer expanse of Russia’s Arctic territory makes the Federation a de facto regional leader. Basic Principles 2035 outlines the economic development and national security measures necessary to improve quality of life and maintain strategic dominance in the High North.


Sweden and the New High North

Sweden recently unveiled its revamped Arctic policy, having gone unchanged since 2011. The strategy’s details are familiar, focusing on climate change, multilateral cooperation, and sustainable development. The overhaul comes at a time of change in the High North. Facing new geopolitical pressures, Sweden is pressing forward with clear-eyed and agile Arctic policy.

Sweden and the EU’s Arctic Outpost

The Kingdom of Sweden’s Arctic position is unique in several respects. Their European Union membership provides them with substantial funding and avenues for collaborative effort in developing and defending their northernmost territory. Though formally a non-NATO state, in practice Sweden conducts joint operations with NATO frequently.

The economic and security benefits of a unified Scandinavian approach to Russia, China, and the United States generally outweighs any desire or ability for Sweden to act unilaterally. However, a formally unified strategy is far off. Near-Arctic and Arctic states alike are still in the midst of overhauling their blueprints for the region.

Sweden’s Arctic Interests

Sweden’s primary interests revolve around its resource rich Ferroscandian territory, specifically its iron, lumber, and hydropower. The new infrastructure and regulations needed for sustainable development of these resources is a key priority for the country moving forward. Historically, Swedish Arctic development conflicted with the indigenous Samí’s traditional practices modes of sustenance, such as reindeer herding. The Samí Parliament remains largely symbolic, but cooperation and mutual development with the Finno-Ugric group was earmarked in the updated whitepaper.

Though Sweden recognizes the possibility of further Chinese encroachment, the value of their trade networks and capital (especially with regards to mineral resource development) means that no significant action against the CCP is to be expected. However, Defence Minister Peter Hultqvist recently announced the reestablishment of five northern regiments to defend the country’s Arctic sovereignty. Expecting to increase military spending 85% by 2025, the five-year defense bill outlines a policy of increased cooperation with Norway and Scandinavia. Increasing tensions with Russia prompted the decision.


Sweden’s revamped Arctic policy is fairly standard fare, focusing on mineral resource development, climate change, Samí relations and sovereignty. The Kingdom will work via Arctic and European collaborative institutions to advance its interests, and will likely take on a greater role in Arctic institutional governance moving forward.


Russia’s Big Week

The last week saw five major developments in the Russian Arctic. The Federation sent a new icebreaker directly to the North Pole, recorded an unprecedented amount of Arctic shipping through the Northeast Passage, and oversaw a formerly dominant shipping corporation’s bankruptcy filing. Additionally, the Federation closed in on a Korean infrastructure deal, and uncovered new petroleum reserves with the aid of China.

Icebreakers and Ice

Built in 2016, the Arktika successfully completed its voyage to the North Pole, breaking through ice up to three meters thick along the journey. Despite a troubled construction, the nuclear-powered Arktika exceeded expectations by completing the voyage unscathed. On its route, the vessel recorded unprecedentedly northern Arctic sea-ice. This means that polar ice had receded closer to the poles than expected.

Russia’s nuclear-powered icebreaker Arktika leaves the port of Saint Petersburg on September 22, 2020 for its maiden voyage to its future home port of Murmansk in northwestern Russia where it is expected in two weeks after undergoing tests of its performance en route. – Designed to transport liquefied natural gas from the Arctic, the 173 metres (570 feet) long and 15 metres high giant vessel is touted as the most powerful of its kind and a symbol of Moscow’s Arctic ambitions. (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA / AFP) (Photo by OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP via Getty Images)

Russia’s development of the Northeast Passage is paying off. From January to September, a record 22.98 million tons in goods were shipped along the route. Less than half of this amount passed through the passage in just 2017. Shrinking sea-ice and steadily improving infrastructure are working in tandem to make the Arctic Sea a maritime shipping superhighway.\

Boom and Bust

Amid the rapid expansion of Russia’s Arctic economy, the previously dominant Murmansk Shipping Company filed for bankruptcy. The company lost several crucial contracts, and was gradually overtaken by competitors.

Korean and Chinese Infrastructure Assistance

The Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering company is set to construct maritime storage facilities for Russian liquified natural gas (LNG). All of the LNG will be exported, and maritime storage will cut export costs substantially. The deal further cements growing ties between Russia and Korea.

Utilizing Chinese semi-submersible drilling infrastructure, state energy corporation Gazprom discovered new sources of gas in Leningradskoye field, significantly increasing the field’s value.

The success is emblematic of China and Russia’s partnership generally, whereby Chinese capital or technology is exchanged for access to Russian resources and sea-space.

Chinese paramilitary police border guards train in the snow at Mohe County in China’s northeast Heilongjiang province, on the border with Russia, on December 12, 2016. – Mohe is the northernmost point in China, with a sub arctic climate where border guards operate in temperatures as low as -36 Celcius. (Photo by STR / AFP) / China OUT (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)
The Arctic’s Russian Future

Holding vast swathes of Arctic territory, it’s only natural that Russia enjoys significant influence  in the region. Despite sanctions and isolation, the Federation’s mixed model of economic development, combining private, public, and military investment, continues to be successful. Arctic states should look to Russia for inspiration in charting their own courses to sovereignty and prosperity in the High North.

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Russia and China’s Maritime Advancements

This week, both Russia and China successfully completed two long term naval operations. The Russian vessel “Akademic Aleksandrov” returned to port after a months-long military research assignment. China’s Xue Long 2 icebreaker arrived in Shanghai after two and a half months in the Arctic.

The “Akademic Aleksandrov” — Photo courtesy of the Northern Fleet

The “Akademic Aleksandrov” carries nuclear ‘mini-submarines’, and its research expeditions are highly secretive. Prior expeditions and trials have focused on the development of underwater drone capabilities, though it is unknown whether this mission included drone testing.

The Norwegian Response

Lieutenant-General Morten Haga-Lunde, Head of the Norweigan Foreign Intelligence Service, chafed at Russia’s recent activity in the region. Haga-Lunde made reference to the Losharik submarine accident in his most recent statement on Russian reactor-powered submarine research and ‘seabed warfare’ programs. In his presentation of the Intelligence Services’ annual report, Haga-Lunde stated:

“The development will bring, additional to the military challenges, also challenges related to both environment and security. In 2019, about 25 Russians were killed during military activity near Norway…I consider the risk for more such unintended incidents in our neighborhoods to be big in the years to come.”

Lieutenant-General Morten Haga-Lunde, Head of the Norwegian Foreign Intelligence Service

With Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg striking a more defensive posture toward Russia and China, the recent “Akademic Aleksandrov” test may coarsen relations further.

The China Connection

The Xue Long 2 sailed over 12,000 nautical miles on its inaugural journey, and represents a substantial victory for China’s Arctic efforts. Though the icebreaker collected sediment samples and conducted climate research, the expedition also served to legitimize China’s presence in the region. The People’s Republic’s heavy investment in the Arctic will only increase as the region’s economic and military value expands.

The Xue Long 2

Russia and China are organized, efficient, and proactive in advancing their Arctic interests. The United States, Canada, and Scandinavia must mount a similarly coherent response in order to safeguard their own stake in the High North.


Norway’s New Ambassador

On September 17th, Ambassador Anniken Krutnes officially became Norway’s 15th ambassador to the United States. She is the first woman to fill the role. Prior to her American posting, Krutnes served as Norway’s Ambassador to the Netherlands and Luxembourg.

Ambassador Krutnes with the AMAP Secretariat Team in 2016.
A Great Diplomatic Career

Ambassador Krutnes has enjoyed a lengthy diplomatic career. Born September 15, 1968, Krutnes acquired degrees in both economics and law before entering Norway’s Foreign Service. Her first notable posting was Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, serving from 2004 to 2008.

Krutnes would go on to serve as Norway’s Ambassador to the Hague, working in this position from 2011 to 2016. During this time, Krutnes also served as the Facilitator for Cooperation in The Hague Working Group, from 2012 to 2015. As Facilitator, she improved cooperation and organization between Hague member states and the International Criminal Court. Her efforts resulted in improvements to witness protection, among other things.

Norway Adjusting to US’ Pivot to Arctic Focus

After completing her tenure at the Hague, Krutnes became Norway’s Ambassador for Arctic and Antarctic Affairs. With the Trump Administration’s pivot toward the Arctic, her expertise and insight will be essential for Norwegian-American relations going forward. She served in this capacity from 2016-2018.

Ambassador Krutnes also filled multiple leadership roles in Norway’s Foreign Service, and continued working in this capacity until being appointed Norway’s Ambassador to America this year. Her new appointment represents an opportunity to both clarify and reaffirm Norway and America’s partnership in the Arctic. This is doubly true given the new geopolitical challenges facing the High North. As the United States begins to take its Arctic responsibilities more seriously, Ambassador Krutnes will become an increasingly key figure in Arctic policy.


The Arctic Energy Office

Thanks to Alaska Senator Lisa Murowski, Department of Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette, and many others, the Arctic Energy Office (AEO) has been reestablished. Lost and forgotten amid bureaucratic reshuffle, the Office is now being opened on the University of Alaska Fairbanks’ campus. The AEO will oversee and coordinate scientific research and matters of regional security pertaining to energy.

America’s Arctic Energy Strategy

Oil and natural gas are and will remain the cornerstones of America’s Arctic energy strategy. However, the AEO will work to maximize the responsible use of fossil fuels, and expand research into supplemental sources like nuclear and renewables. Already, nearly a quarter thousand Alaskan communities regularly utilize renewable energy sources. 

Alaskans are subject to high energy costs due to the difficulty of transportation and lack of contiguous infrastructure. As a result, independent microgrids are the norm across a multitude of Alaskan communities. Per the AEO’s mission, innovation will be targeted toward reducing prices and increasing efficiency for both Alaska’s cities and far-flung communities.

“The United States is an Arctic nation because of Alaska, and the re-establishment of the Arctic Energy Office in Fairbanks will ensure greater collaboration between our state’s innovators and the Department of Energy’s cutting-edge researchers,”

Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski

Research will be conducted according to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission’s five outlined goals. The AEO will investigate environmental change, Arctic infrastructure development, Alaskan public health outcomes, natural resource conditions, and possibilities for enhancing international scientific collaboration.

Purpose of the AEO

The AEO will also study the effects of “diminished physical and geopolitical barriers to resource access” on American regional security. With the Trump Administration and the Navy taking an interest in Alaska, the American Arctic is poised to undergo a revolution in investment and attention.

Decades of neglect have taken their toll, but the AEO’s establishment is a critical victory for America’s Arctic prospects. With proper organization, America can fulfill its responsibility to its Arctic citizens and create a safer, more prosperous High North.


The Barents Sea

This week, NATO naval and air forces conducted training operations in the Barents Sea. Norwegian, British, and American ships sailed through Russia’s exclusive economic zone north of the Kola Peninsula. The drills are a landmark moment in the region’s remilitarization.

Norway’s NATO Participation on the Rise

British and American forces conducted similar exercises in May, without Norway and Denmark. The latter pair’s participation this week is a symbol of Norway’s post-Crimea position toward Russia. At one point, Norwegian ships made cordial visits to Russian military ports. Now, they play war games in Russia’s backyard. These exercises are doubly significant considering Russia regularly uses the Barents Sea for its own drills.

Norway’s participation comes just months after PM Erna Solberg highlighted Russia and China as possible threats. Additionally, her administration also pledged to increase military spending by $1.7 billion over the next eight years. If this shift becomes permanent policy, Norway may become a regular presence in NATO drills north of the Arctic Circle.

“These [China and Russia] are countries where the authorities do not see the value of neither democracy, rule of law, nor the fact that people have undisputed rights… Over the last years, these forces have become increasingly visible and gained more influence.”

Norwegian Prime minister Erna Solberg

The United Kingdom justified its participation using familiar rhetoric, with Defense Secretary Ben Wallace stating: “The UK is the closest neighbour to the Arctic states. In addition to preserving UK interests we have a responsibility to support our Arctic allies such as Norway to preserve the security and stability of the region”. Although Norway surely welcomes the support, Russia has legitimate objections to the UK’s near-Arctic presence. These objections would carry more weight if Russia did not invite its own near-Arctic partner, China, into the region.

The Arctic as a Proving Ground

As competition over the region’s valuable resources and thoroughfares intensifies, NATO and non-NATO tit-for-tat activity will increase. Near-Arctic powers like Britain, China, Japan and Korea will inevitably complicate things further. The Arctic’s remilitarization is inevitable.


Alaska and America’s Arctic Future

This week, Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan hosted Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite in his first visit to the Arctic state. Secretary Braithwaite’s tour comes at an important crossroads for the American Arctic.

Senator Sullivan’s Leadership in the Arctic

Senator Sullivan’s efforts to develop and defend Alaska are making headway. Six new icebreakers are slated for construction, the expansion of the Nome port has been approved, and the President has turned his attention toward the Arctic.

The Senator has championed Arctic issues since his election to the Senate. He sponsored the Strategic Arctic Naval Focus Act of 2019, outlining the geopolitical challenges posed by China and Russia in the Arctic. The senator also sponsored the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2019, which would extend critical funding for Arctic defense, supply, and research.

In his video recap, Sullivan says he pressed the Navy Secretary on domestic manufacturing of the new icebreaker fleet and other infrastructure. Should this come to pass, it would be an immense boon for Alaska’s west coast and the state at large.

Alaska’s Need for Investment

At present, Alaska’s economy depends almost entirely on energy, tourism, and fishing. Large-scale civilian and military infrastructure development would bring in much-needed jobs and funds. Senator Sullivan is hoping to succeed in ensuring Alaskans are employed to maintain new infrastructure.

Lack of Vision in the American Arctic

Development projects like Senator Sullivan’s are unfortunately restrained by the lack of an overarching, coherent plan for the American Arctic. As a result, the region’s future is uncertain. In the wake of the coronavirus and heightened tensions with China, an Arctic industrial policy guaranteeing the security of the Alaskan economy is necessary.


Recent Developments in the American Arctic

The last two weeks in the American Arctic have been eventful. The Trump Administration moved to expand Arctic fossil fuel production, the navy conducted successful naval drills in the region, and a fire aboard the Icebreaker USCGC Healy ended present Coast Guard Arctic activity.

Drilling in the ANWR

Plans to open drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) have been stalled by twin lawsuits. The Gwich’in Steering Committee and National Audubon Society are accusing the Department of the Interior of violating federal environmental and administrative law. The plaintiffs believe insufficient care was given to environmental impact reviews, and that drilling may threaten native wildlife.

President Trump, Interior Department Secretary David Bernhardt, and Alaska Governor Michael Dunleavy believe the project would be an economic boon, creating jobs, introducing more capital to an underdeveloped region, and increasing energy self-sufficiency. Secretary Bernhardt expressed confidence about the Interior Department’s legal due diligence, saying he was “very comfortable with the lines that we drew in this case”.

American Military Activity in the Arctic Region

The United States military deployed the USS Seawolf fast-attack submarine to Norway this week, in a rare display of the submersible. Bombers were also flown to the United Kingdom. The display of American undersea power is particularly noteworthy, given its rarity and Russian remilitarization of the High North. Though the Navy’s recent Arctic activity was successful, the Coast Guard endured a crippling blow.

USCG Healy Damaged By Fire

A fire damaged propulsion motors in the Icebreaker USCGC Healy, resulting in the Coast Guard’s cancellation of all current Arctic activity. With Healy docked in Seattle for repairs, the United States has only one functional icebreaker remaining. This places America at a significant disadvantage when compared to Arctic competitors China and Russia, which operate two and 40 icebreakers respectively. The United States’ remaining icebreaker, the Polar Star, caught fire last year as well. 

Though funding to increase America’s icebreaker fleet size is incoming, construction will go on until the mid 2020s. In an increasingly contentious Arctic region and world, self-sufficiency and power projection are essential to safeguard America’s interests. The modernization of the United States’ Arctic capabilities must occur sooner rather than later. 


Espionage from the East

This week, Norway accused one of its own citizens and a Russian official of espionage. The resulting arrest and expulsion are a low point amid the Arctic states’ already sanctions-strained relationship.

On August 17th, Norwegian police apprehended a man suspected of passing state secrets to Russia. The suspect was caught selling energy information acquired via his position at risk management firm DNV GL.

His handler was also caught, and a briefcase seized. The contents have not been disclosed to the public. The Russian Embassy in Norway characterized the arrest and seizure as baseless fear-mongering. Russia took this stance previously when Norway conducted war games with NATO forces along the countries’ borders.

“PST arrested a Norwegian citizen in Oslo on Saturday, 15 August. The man is accused of having handed over information to a foreign state that could harm basic national interests,”
Diplomatic Troubles

Two days later, on August 19th, Norwegian officials expelled a member of the Russian Embassy’s trade division. The envoy was accused of involvement in the espionage scheme. The Russian Embassy in Oslo protested the decision, but no retaliatory action has been taken.

The row represents Russia’s larger diplomatic difficulties in the High North. NATO-aligned Scandinavia fears the Federation will infringe on its sovereignty and is an integral part of the Crimean sanctions regime. As a result, relations between the Arctic sub-region and Russia can only advance so far, leading Russia to look toward China for capital and cooperation. However, Russia also fears for its sovereignty, and seeks to diversify its Arctic partnerships.

Norway’s Relationship with Russia and China

The state of Norway’s relationships with China and Russia will be important for places like Kirkenes. The port town is courting Chinese infrastructure investment, but is also a borderland hotspot for commercial activity. Travel between Russia and Norway in the area is common, with Norwegians crossing to buy Russian fuel and Russians journeying over for goods and services. Though this espionage incident is relatively minor, Norway’s long-term relationship with Russia will play an important part in Kirkenes’ future and the region’s.

“This is the center of Norway … This is the closest Norway comes to something that is important regarding foreign policy. Nothing is happening in Oslo”

Rune Rafaelsen, Mayor of Sør-Varanger, Norway

Given the European Arctic’s steady remilitarization, espionage is bound to increase. Until there is a comprehensive end to Western sanctions, covert operations accompanied by occasional shows of force will remain the regional norm.