Russia and the Arctic: Analysis and Discussion of Russian Strategies


  • Märta Carlsson
  • Niklas Granholm

Publish date: 2013-03-26

Report number: FOI-R--3596--SE

Pages: 46

Written in: English


  • Russia
  • Arctic
  • Northern Sea Route
  • energy
  • Armed Forces


The Arctic with its vast expanse, severe climate and rich natural resources is a challenge and an opportunity for Russia. The political ambition is to increase the extraction of oil and gas and to make the Northern Sea Route an international shipping channel. The natural resources are seen as the foundation for Russia's future economic and social development. However, the exploitation of the continental shelf involves high risks and will require major investment, and Russia lacks the necessary technology and is dependent on international cooperation. The absence of infrastructure constitutes a challenge to the development of the Arctic. The Northern Sea Route and the improvement of infrastructure on land - for example deep-sea ports - are two essential components to overcome this. In order to open the Northern Sea Route for extensive shipping Russia needs a modernized ice-breaker fleet and border and rescue stations. But the construction of ports and border stations has encountered problems and it is an open question whether or not the ice-breaker fleet is being renewed at such a pace that Russia can promote economic activity in the area after 2020 when the majority of the ice-breakers will be decommissioned. The Arctic is also vital from a military perspective because the area is essential for Russia's missile defence and some of its strategic submarines are based there. This creates an inner contradiction as Russia on the one hand wants to open up the region in order to realize its potential, but on the other hand wants to keep it under close control due to its military importance. Russia has, however, only limited military assets to protect its interests in the Arctic and these may be further reduced due to the decommissioning of naval ships and difficulties to renew the fleet. This report examines Russia's Arctic policy and the developments in the fields it concerns. In a final section four themes for further research are suggested; * How effective will the Russian system be in providing the capability for producing and operating the assets for the Arctic in relation to the stated aims? * How will Russian naval efforts develop in the Barents Sea, in the North-western Pacific and along the Northern Sea Route? * How much of the Russian plans to develop the Russian Arctic can be implemented given what is known of current trends in energy prices? * How will climate change in the Arctic region affect the Russian strategic view on the Arctic and the country's future efforts regarding security there?