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Russia's Arctic strategy: ambitions and constraints

ArcticStrategy_Russia

by Katarzyna Zysk, senior fellow at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies (IFS).

 

The Russian government adopted an Arctic policy document in September 2008. The document, entitled "The fundamentals of state policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the period up to 2020 and beyond" (Osnovy gosudarstvennoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii v Arktike na period do 2020 goda i dalneishuiu perspektivu), was published in the end of March 2009.

 

The fundamentals of Russia's Arctic policy were designed under the auspices of the influential Security Council of the Russian Federation, comprising among permanent members the most important centres of power in Russia, including the Prime Minister, Ministers of Interior, Foreign Affairs and Defence, directors of the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), and Russia's President itself. In the drafting of the document participated most of the ministries and other parts of the executive and legislative branch involved in the regional policies, supported by leading Russian experts and members of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

 

The document is divided into four main chapters: 1. Russia's national interests in the Arctic; 2. Main goals and strategic priorities; 3. Fundamental tasks and means of realization of the state policy; and 4. Fundamental mechanisms of realisation of the policy. It does not provide any clear differentiation between the various terms employed in the document (e.g. "interests", "goals", "priorities", "tasks", "means" and "mechanisms").

 

The importance of the Arctic to Russia lies primarily in its rich energy deposits and strategically important metals and minerals. The strategy clearly emphasizes the region's importance to the national economy as a major source of revenue, mainly from energy production and profitable maritime transport. The ultimate objective of the state policy is to transform the Arctic into "Russia's foremost strategic base for natural resources" by 2020. One of the main goals of the Arctic policy is to increase extraction of the natural resources in the region. In the long-term perspective, the policy aims at preserving Russia's role as a "leading Arctic power".

 

The Russian authorities consider the region crucially important for Russia's further wealth, social and economic development and competitiveness on global markets. One of Russia's fundamental interests is the development of the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a wholly integrated transportation link and a central element in maritime connections between Europe and Asia. The document states that the NSR is a "national transportation route" under the jurisdiction of the Russian Federation and navigation via this sailing channel has to be carried out in compliance with Russian laws and the country's international agreements. To meet the requirements of increased economic activity and ensure restructuring of the volume of maritime freight, Russia recognises the need to develop modern infrastructure and a system of management of communications for the NSR to secure the transit.

 

Closely intertwined with the importance of the region to Russia are the country's efforts to delimitate outer limits of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean region, defined as a top priority task to be accomplished by 2015. The Russian government is clear that the process has to be carried out entirely within the framework of international law. The document defines as a strategic priority development of cooperation with other polar states on maritime boundary delimitation.

 

Russia emphasises the importance of maintaining a "necessary combat potential" in the North in order to secure the country's national interests, although Russia's defence policy in the region is discussed in the Arctic document only in a vestigial form. It reveals, however, that one of Russia major goal is to establish special Arctic military formations in order to protect the county's national interests "in various military and political situations".

 

At the same time, the document points at the need to make necessary preparations for the expected increase in economic and other human activity in the Arctic, and nontraditional security challenges and threats which may derive from it, such as terrorism at sea, smuggling and illegal migration, and protection of aquatic biological resources. Hence, the FSB, in particular border guard units, is to play a central role in protecting national interests in the region. The Russian authorities clearly underscored the document's cooperative character by emphasizing the need to preserve the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation, and underlining the role of regional bilateral and multilateral cooperation.

 

Link to Russian Arctic strategy document of September 2008 (in Russian)

For a critical analysis of the Russian Arctic strategy, see Zysk's article: "Russia's Arctic Strategy: Ambitions and Constraints", Joint Force Quarterly, NDU Press, 57/2010.

 

On December 9, 2011, the Russian Governmental Commission for securing of Russian presence on the Svalbard archipelago adopted a draft strategy for Russia’s presence on the islands. After its approval by the Government of the Russian Federation, the document will give guidelines for the Russian economic activity and for securing Russia’s national interests in this region.

For more information, see a statement on the Government of the Russian Federation’s home page (in Russian).

 

Russian national security strategy to 2020

by Katarzyna Zysk, senior fellow at the IFS (15 June 2009)

On 12 May 2009 President Medvedev approved the Russian national security strategy for the period until 2020. The document replaced the security concept from 1997 (modified in 2000), thus reflecting Russia’s evolved security environment. Contrary to what was widely expected, the new security concept has stronger conciliatory character.

The broad and detailed document depicts a complex and integrated picture of Russia’s security situation. It describes current world trends and defines Russia’s national interests and strategic priorities. Unlike the previous documents, it goes far beyond the classical definition of national security with a predominantly military approach. The new strategy identifies threats and challenges within a broadly defined concept of security under chapters defined as ‘National defence’, ‘State security and civil protection’, ‘Improvement of living standards’, ‘Economic growth’, ‘Research, technologies and education’, ‘Healthcare’, ‘Culture’, ‘Ecology’, and ‘Strategic stability and partnership on equal terms’. Much less attention is devoted to hard security threats. National defence tasks are described relatively vaguely. The document avoids as well any broader discussion of Russia’s nuclear policy, confirming only its further reliance on nuclear deterrence and nuclear parity with the United States.


The new strategy points at failure of the current global and regional security architecture, as it is disproportionately weighted in favour of NATO. It voices Russia’s long-standing opposition to any future eastward enlargement of the Alliance and plans to move its military infrastructure to Russian borders, as well as attempts to give the organisation global functions. At the same time, it expresses Russia’s readiness to negotiate and develop relations with NATO on the condition of equality and respect for Russia’s interests. Contrary to expectations based on the anti-Western rhetoric frequently used by the Russian leadership in recent years, the United States is not mentioned in the document as a security concern. It refers though to attempts of a range of leading states to achieve military supremacy as a threat to state’s security.

The economy has a prominent place in the document as a major security factor. The dependence of the Russian economy on export of raw materials has been recognized as a threat, together with foreign involvement in the national economy. The global economic downturn has left a footprint in the document, which states that consequences of such crisis may be comparable with the devastation left by large-scale use of military force. One of Russia’s objectives is to become one of the five biggest economies in the world in terms of GDP. Similarly to other newly updated documents, such as the new Arctic strategy to 2020, particular attention is devoted to infrastructure development aimed at reducing economic differences among Russian regions, in particular in the Arctic and Far East.

The document highlights the role of energy security. It associates Russia’s international position and strength with its energy reserves, and states that a pragmatic policy and political use of its natural resources has strengthened Russia’s influence on the international stage. The strategy asserts that in a long term perspective the attention of international policy will be focused on access to energy reserves, including on the continental shelf in the Barents Sea and other parts of the Arctic, in addition to the Middle East, the Caspian Sea and Central Asia. In the next article the document points that the critical state of physical safety of dangerous materials, in particular in states with unstable domestic political situation, as well as proliferation of conventional weapons, can lead to exacerbation of existing and provoking new regional and international conflicts. The strategy maintains that it cannot be excluded that problems resulting from the competitive struggle for dwindling resources worldwide may be solved with use of military force.

As many other Russian documents and official statements, the new security strategy does not omit to clearly emphasise the country’s commitment to international law in pursuing its foreign policy objectives and protecting national security interests.  

To se the official document (in Russian), please click here: “Strategia natsionalnoi bezopasnosti Rossiiskoi Federatsii do 2020 goda


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