Arctic Yearbook 2014 - Page 420

420 Arctic Yearbook 2014 future, needs will surpass capacities (Ragner 2008). While refurbishing efforts have been made to enable the nuclear icebreakers to operate beyond their normal service-life, several of the remaining icebreakers will inevitably be decommissioned within the coming decade. The icebreaker fleet is ageing, therefore under current conditions of limited funding, perhaps the highest priority is life extension of the icebreakers.12 Since the planning and building of a new generation of large (nuclear) icebreakers can be assumed to take at least ten years from the time a decision is made, it seems obvious that Russia’s icebreaker fleet will shrink considerably before it grows again.13 Currently, there is only one ship under construction - the biggest nuclear-powered icebreaker “Arktika”, which is planned to be commissioned in 2017. This ship will be able reach any point in the Arctic Ocean any time of the year (Weaver, 2013).14 Nuclear icebreakers remain important for the economic survival of Russia’s Arctic regions, as they guarantee the free naval transport thought far north territories and secure access to isolated regions. Therefore, they are a central element of the Northern Sea Route development strategy (Bukharin 2006). Besides the icebreaker fleet, the nuclear deterrence force stationed at the bases of the Kola Peninsula, should be considered as Russian-specific, but in the Arctic. The Kola Peninsula hosts two-thirds of the Russian sea-based nuclear forces. However it is necessary to underline that those forces are not useful in case of conventional military conflict in the High North. Their primary role is global strategic deterrence and the only connection with the Arctic is, that their home bases and parts of their operational area are located there. While not tailored for strikes in the Arctic their presence gives very specific importance to the Russian military in general. In this context it is crucial to secure open access to the world’s oceans and the possibility of broad operational maneuver for the submarine forces (unlike the ports on the Black Sea or the Baltic which have choke points to open oceans controlled by NATO countries). Moreover, there is relatively developed military infrastructure which makes this region well suited for strategic naval operations, and land territories also provide a test bed for new weapons and host a range of important military installations and defence industries. The specific importance of the Arctic is emphasized by the fact that the nuclear deterrent remains not only a key element of the Russian military strategy, but serves also as a symbol and guarantee of Russia’s great power status. Maintaining strategic nuclear capabilities is, therefore, one of the highest priorities of Russia’s military policies both in the North and globally (Zysk 2010; Konyshev and Sergunin 2014a). Currently, one of the main Arctic-related strategic motivations of the Kremlin is to regain status as a “world naval power” as it is declared in the National Security Strategy, and thus is impossible without guaranteed access to the Atlantic Ocean (Strategia 2009). Conclusion Russia’s growing attention to the geopolitics of the Arctic has been occasionally accompanied by rhetoric, and to some extent, an increase in northern military presence is to protect Russian interests. Certainly, the two new “Arctic brigades” as well as the military infrastructure development in the High North can be considered as an increase in Russia’s Arctic presence. Padrtová