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” 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.
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.