Norwegian Intelligence Services: Arctic High on the Russian Agenda

The strategic and economic significance of the Arctic makes the region a high priority for Russian authorities, Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde of the Norwegian Intelligence Services writes in its annual report. (Photo: Norwegian Armed Forces)
Russia has modernized and traind its military power to a level providing the Kremlin with increased leverage, also in the Arctic, the Norwegian Intelligence Services writes in its annual brief ‘Fokus 2018’.

Russia has modernized and traind its military power to a level providing the Kremlin with increased leverage, also in the Arctic, the Norwegian Intelligence Services writes in its annual brief ‘Fokus 2018’.

The open section of the intelligence services’ report was published yesterday by Head of Service, Lieutenant General Morten Haga Lunde. Russia obviously receives much attention in the report.

High priority in Russia

The strategic and economic significance of the Arctic is a high priority for Russian authorities. Russia increasingly argues that NATO represents a threat to Russian interests in the Arctic. The authorities therefore want to strengthen the ability to be present and control the northern sea areas.

In 2017, the Russian coastguard received three new vessels, with two more currently being built. Introducing new capacities means a significant increase of the Russian ability to control the northern sea areas, the ‘Fokus 2018’ report further states.

At the same time, Russia is dependent on international cooperation to explore resources in the Arctic. in order to achieve its ambitions in the region, Russia thus has to balance its desire of a high degree of national control towards a stable and predictable climate for international cooperation.

Russian control and leadership

The conference “Arctic: Territory of Dialogue" was held in Arkhangelsk in March 2017 and is an example of how Russia promotes international cooperation and investments in the region, though with Russian control and leadership.

The increasing rapprochement between Russian and China in the Arctic is largely due to Russia’s not having many other options, given western sanctions and financial recession.

In the summer of 2017, the Arctic was officially introduced into China’s so-called Silk Road Initiative, a political initiative aiming to tie China closer to the rest of the world.

Does not want increased Chinese influence

The Chinese initiative in the Arctic includes participation in the Arctic Council, research, alternative future transportation routes, as well as investments in Russian energy and infrastructure projects.

Russia welcomes Chinese investments in order to realise its own projects, however, it will be reluctant to opening up for larger Chinese influence or presence in the Arctic, according to the report. The report also points to Chinese investors having been crucial for realizing the prestigious Yamal LNG project on time.

Starting up the plant on the Yamal peninsula also facilitates developing and investing further in export of liquefied natural gas.

Agreements with Chinese investors about realizing a new LNG plant, the so-called ‘Arctic LNG-2’, have already been signed. Several Chinese actors represent both new opportunities and new challenges for Russia in the Arctic.

A lasting need for capital

The lasting need for foreign capital and technology combined with continued western sanctions creates opportunities for capital-strong non-western actors.

The centralization of power in the hands of the president is strengthened, and the authorities have tightened their grip over domestic control in order to avoid political resistance. NATO is increasingly presented as a threat. Despite lasting budget deficit, the country still wants to strengthen its presence in the Arctic and its destabilization policy towards the Ukraine, the report says.

Military focus on the Kola Peninsula

The Kola Peninsula is very important militarily for Russia. The strategic submarines, whose home port is near the Norwegian fjords, patrol Arctic ocean areas as a strategic determent in particular against the USA.

The main task of the military forces on the Kola Peninsula is protecting the submarines and their bases. The ability to carry out this task increases when new materiel is added and training increased, which again leads to increased Russian action capacity in Norway’s immediate neighborhood.

Rehabilitating Cold War bases

The region’s importance has increased, economically too, over the past few years, in line with an increased focus on potential energy deposits. The High North and the Arctic has thus been key elements of Russia’s military modernization program.

On an overall military level, Russia has gathered much of its Arctic areas under the joint command of its Northern Fleet.

Her military power rehabilitates bases from the Cold War and creates new ones along the Northeast Passage. Its emphasis on mobile systems, special forces and long-distance precision weapons provides Russia with increased military capacity in all areas.

Local superiority for a brief period of time

Reinforcement forces allow the Russian military power to achieve local superiority relatively fast, though for a brief period of time.

There are regular training of the reinforcement concept through using railways and planes, which was demonstrated during an exercise in the fall of 2017, when a significant amount of forces was supplied to Kola.

Since 2013, observing transfer and training with airborne forces has become an everyday reality. These divisions are considered elite forces and are characterized by a high degree of training, high mobility and low response time.

They can be quickly deployed and put to work in an operation area using planes, helicopters or parachutes, according to the ‘Fokus 2018’ report.

Strengthened capacity of the Northern Fleet

Training activities are important for the airborne forces’ ability to operate in Arctic conditions and for them to collaborate with local units.

The development must be seen in connection with the Russian initiative in the North, where vast distances and lack of infrastructure makes air-mobile forces very relevant.

The general development as well as the reinforcement operations in particular contributes to strengthening the Northern Fleet’s ability to plan, coordinate and lead larger and more complex operations.

More unannounced drills

With Sergej Sjojgu as Minister of Defence, the praxis of unannounced drill exercises have been resumed and expanded.

The development increases Russia’s military capacity in the North, and the warning time for force build-up in our [Norway’s] immediate neighborhood is reduced.

The new normal situation of Russian drill activities includes larger and possibly also more frequent drills in Norway’s immediate neighborhood.

Still high military activity

In sum, high military activity is expected for 2018, with unannounced preparedness exercises, strategic flights and new weapon systems testing.

When combined with development of the Russian military force in our [Norwegian] neighborhood and changes in operational patterns, this indicates a new military ‘normal’ situation for the coming years, the report from the Norwegian Intelligence Services argue.

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