Polar Shares
Putin Makes His Arctic Push

Map by Lindsey Burrows

The warming Arctic region is one of the last frontiers left on Earth, and as rising surface temperatures melt the ice that has kept humans out of those northern reaches for so long, any and every country with even a passing claim on Arctic territory is angling for a slice of the pie. This isn’t just a land grab, though—it’s about control over what promise to be some very valuable new shipping lanes, and a massive cache of hydrocarbons.

To illustrate the Arctic’s rising importance, Barack Obama became the first sitting president to visit the region in 2015, though he spent much of his visit pointing out the (admittedly real) dangers of climate change. But President Trump is going to need to pay even closer attention to the Arctic, because as its ice and waters warm, other countries are honing in on newly uncovered geopolitical opportunities. No one is focusing more intently on the Arctic than Russia, and as Reuters reports, the Kremlin is beefing up its already dominant Arctic fleet:

[Russia] is building three nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, to bolster its fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, used to clear channels for military and civilian ships. Russia’s Northern Fleet, based near Murmansk in the Kola Bay’s icy waters, is also due to get its own icebreaker, its first, and two ice-capable corvettes armed with cruise missiles.

“Under (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin, our Arctic border areas were stripped bare,” said Professor Pavel Makarevich, a member of the Russian Geographical Society. “Now they are being restored.” […]

“The modernization of Arctic forces and of Arctic military infrastructure is taking place at an unprecedented pace not seen even in Soviet times,” Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief, told Reuters.

This is a shot across Washington’s bow, and we’re not prepared to respond. The Arctic is estimated to contain 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas, and as polar ice melts, ships will be able to travel along new, shorter northern routes. The U.S. Navy enforces open seas around the world, but it is woefully unprepared to advance America’s interests along our newest coast.

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