Monday, June 22, 2020

The Empire Of The North

gatestoneinstitute |  Moscow sent a spectacular message last month to the world's other Arctic powers: Russia is determined to dominate the region. Russian transport aircraft, breaking the record for the highest altitude jump ever, parachuted a group of their Spetsnaz (Special Forces) over the Arctic from a height of almost 33,000 feet (Mt. Everest is 29,000 feet). Russian paratroops then executed a military exercise operation before reassembling at the Nagurskoye base, the northernmost military facility in Russia.

Any rival's attempt to catch up and surpass Moscow's head start in the Arctic is unlikely to succeed. Russia has a geopolitical advantage in that its sovereign land abuts over half of the Arctic's territorial waters. Historically, Russia's czars and commissars were frustrated in their attempts to secure warm-water ports, which would have benefited commerce and military force projection. Now, with environmental warming and subsequent accelerating ice-melt in the Arctic Ocean, Moscow appears poised to control the newest maritime corridor, "the Northeast Passage." This waterway will unite Russian Europe with Russia's Far East provinces adjacent to Pacific waters. The "Northeast Passage" could shorten the transshipment of goods from Asian countries to Europe by two weeks, rather than shipping goods through the Suez Canal route.

For centuries, ships could navigate only sections of the Arctic a few months of the year. If present climatic warming trends continue, however, and probably even if they do not, Russia seems to be expecting exclusively to exploit the region's vast energy, mineral and fishing resources, at least within the legal limits of its 200 nautical mile exclusive economic zone beyond its land borders.
Russia's northwestern Arctic territory of the Kola Peninsula accounts for large portions of the country's nickel and copper output, as does Norilsk in East Siberia. The Arctic region also accounts for most of Russia's tin extraction. Russian mining centers within the Arctic Circle produce valuable minerals, such as diamonds in the Yakutia Republic in Russia's Far East, as well as palladium, platinum, selenium and cobalt. Probably the most famous minerals are the area's legendary gold deposits in the Kolyma area.

Russia's claim of exclusivity, or at least its special ties, to the Arctic are of long-standing. Moscow first claimed sovereignty over all the islands in the Arctic Sea north of its Eurasian land mass as early as 1926, and repeated this claim in 1928 and again in 1950. Russia's claim of sovereign control of these islands, along with its nearly 25,000 kilometers of Arctic coastline, is considered part of the country's historical patrimony and, therefore, its ownership supposedly non-negotiable.


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