Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 416

416 Arctic Yearbook 2014 A Strategic Framework: Development of the Arctic’s Importance for Russia In order to understand recent Russian ambitions in the Arctic it is necessary to define a framework for the broader strategic picture of Moscow’s strategic culture and security identity. Russia is perceiving the Arctic as a geopolitically central region and sees its own role/position there as a predominant one. During the Cold War the strategic importance of the Arctic was irreplaceable. First, the Northern Fleet (NF), stationed in the Arctic (Kola Peninsula) guaranteed nuclear deterrence. Second, the surface combat ships protected its nuclear strategic submarines by establishing a “naval fortress” in the Arctic, preventing access of NATO fleets that could harm its strategic submarine force. Third, if needed (in theoretical case of war) they could conduct operations from Arctic bases to interrupt Transatlantic supply lines and crucial naval communications between the US and Europe. After the collapse of the USSR, the Arctic witnessed dual-direction simultaneous development. First, there was a slight diminishing of its importance from a strategic-military point of view, caused by the decreasing overall relevance of nuclear deterrence, which in the Russian context was guaranteed predominantly by the NF. On the other hand, that decrease was just a relative one; because of Russia’s dramatically reduced conventional capabilities, the nuclear strategic forces has maintained a high level of importance in Moscow’s overall strategy. Further, the relative importance of nuclear deterrence dramatically increased during late 1990s, because of continuous deterioration of conventional capabilities and the lowering threshold for engaging nuclear weapons. As stated in the Russian military doctrine – “Russia retains nuclear power status for deterring (preventing) aggression against it or its allies” (Prezident Rossii 2000). This was reconfirmed in the 2010 Military Doctrine. It reversed attention back towards the elements and regions crucial for nuclear capabilities, thus the Arctic was among the biggest winners of this development, again because of its NF. In the end it has caused the renaissance of the military factor of the Arctic’s relevance. As Baev confirms, the main permanent factor in the securitization of the Arctic agenda is still the Northern Fleet (Baev 2009). Second, there has been an increase of economic and political importance of Russia’s High North. Due to the loss of Eastern European territories (especially Ukraine and Belarus) and Central Asia, the relative share of the Arctic on overall Russian GDP/economy increased. Moreover, the nature of the Arctic economy has been transformed. During the Soviet era, natural resources in Northern territories were developed to provide the necessary materials for an isolated Soviet Union to industrialize. Today, this region is developed to meet the needs of international markets (Southcott 2010: 49). Currently, the Arctic accounts around 20 percent of the total Russian GDP (Medvedev 2008b) comparable to Ukrainian SSR’s share before 1991.1 Russia as the Arctic’s Status Quo Power As stated in the Russian “Arctic Strategy” Moscow’s key objective is to maintain Russia’s role as a “leading Arctic power” (Medvedev 2008a).2 According to Zysk, Russian military activity in the Far North has tangibly increased in recent years. Combined with political assertiveness and rhetorical hostility toward the West, which was a particular feature of Vladimir Putin’s second presidenti [