Russian Arctic Oil and Gas Development Joined by Initiative to Restore Soviet Arctic Military Bases

As EU and U.S. sanctions expand beyond a mere ban on the export of offshore arctic oil and gas development technology to a prohibition on working together with Russian companies in this area, Moscow has announced in this same window its intention to reestablish Soviet-era military bases and launch a unified military command structure to coordinate future operations in the Arctic region.  The latter was announced by President Putin in April 2014.

Each of these two parallel (and possibly intersecting) initiatives related to the Arctic reinforce the growing strategic importance of the region and the likelihood that it will develop into a hotly contested region with competing military and economic interests of those states on its periphery.

On September 8, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesperson, Colonel Alexander Gordeyev, announced that Russia had already begun building new military bases in the region.  ‘‘‘On Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt, block-modules have been unloaded for the construction of military camps.  The complex is being erected in the form of a star.‘  These two locations are located deep in the Arctic Circle in the Chukchi Sea, close to Alaska, and represent the first new facilities established in the region since the end of the Cold War.  Cape Schmidt was formerly used as a base for long-range strategic bombers.  The Defense Ministry has previously said that it intends to establish six military compounds in the period ahead, ‘‘‘to further develop the stationing of ground forces in the Arctic‘‘_They will be contemporary military communities.  We will call them ‘‘‘The North Star,‘ since the shape of the community resembles a star.‘

The Arctic Council of nations has reacted to these latest announcements with alarm.  Meanwhile, Rosneft and Gazprom have had a monopoly on Arctic oil and gas exploration in Russia, but have depended on Western partners (e.g., Royal Dutch Shell, BP and ExxonMobil) for advanced technology and capability.  Russian ambitions to re-militarize its Arctic territory while simultaneously developing its natural resources is likely to attract scrutiny, criticism and sanctions should tensions continue to mount between Moscow and the West.