Our relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, is complicated. Since the Obama administration’s “reset with Russia,” the former KGB bigwig has, not only pushed the envelope in numerous areas of governance around the world, but shored up his quest to establish Russia as the pre-eminent international force.
Here at home, Vlad insinuated himself as a prominent topic of media speculation during our presidential election process. The hacking and leaking of political communications and his ambiguous relationship with our President-elect kept his name in the news. And then there is Trump’s alleged relationships within the Russian business community and the banking industry. It’s a complicated story.
But after reading a couple of reports, I have a new concern over an area of the world where Vlad is making a power play that the media seems to all but ignore.
Due to climate change, the Arctic Ocean is “opening up.” As the ice melts, a new, faster, North Sea route for shipping is emerging creating an alternative to the Suez Canal. It is estimated that up to 28 days will be cut from shipping times by utilizing this new route and whichever nation has the rights to it will have tremendous power.
But this shipping route isn’t the only caveat for control over the area. It has long been known that there are vast amounts of natural resources to be found in the Arctic, leading many to refer to the area as “a second Middle East” due to the estimates of oil and gas under the ocean.
Several nations, including the U.S., border the Ocean and may have a claim to its assets. While the Arctic is governed by international maritime law, there is no clear, unquestionable right to the ocean. The Law of the Sea Treaty grants significant undersea portions of the Arctic to Canada, the U.S., Russia, Norway and Denmark. These nations can claim the natural resources on, above and beneath the ocean floor up to 200 miles from their shoreline. Control of the future sea lane seems to be totally up for grabs.
There is a lot at stake in the Arctic and Vlad knows it. As early as 2007, a Russian flag in a titanium capsule was planted below the North Pole. Vlad then began large-scaled militarization of the Arctic. While we do have a military and exploration presence — and Canada regularly carries out military exercises — Russia is already there in force.
Per the International Policy Digest, January 2016, Vlad is serious about controlling the Arctic. He is building more military bases, repositioning troops, investing in “ice-breakers,” investing in Arctic-optimizing technology and constructing natural resource infrastructures.
The article concludes, “As ice in the Arctic continues to melt and access to natural resources continues to increase, Russia is making the investments and the decisions now to position themselves for the future…to not just operate in the Arctic, but to dominate it.”
Another complication to add to the mix.