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Timur Makhmutov

PhD in Political Science, RIAC Deputy Program Director

Column: Arctic Cooperation

The fact that huge swathes of Russia fall within the Arctic circle means the region is not only a pressing domestic concern for Russia — it is also a foreign policy priority. Accordingly, Moscow has two main goals in the region. First, to secure large investments in Arctic infrastructure and the economy. Second, to modernize its military presence to protect those investments, all while counterbalancing the aspirations of the United States and NATO.

The fact that huge swathes of Russia fall within the Arctic circle means the region is not only a pressing domestic concern for Russia — it is also a foreign policy priority. Accordingly, Moscow has two main goals in the region. First, to secure large investments in Arctic infrastructure and the economy. Second, to modernize its military presence to protect those investments, all while counterbalancing the aspirations of the United States and NATO.

Western journalists regularly accuse Russia of militarizing the Arctic. In reality, Russia’s only real military presence here is in Arkhangelsk and Murmansk. These ports are Russia’s only access point to the world’s ocean. Strategically, there are no other viable options. Developing the Arctic economically through new shipping routes or oil and gas projects is made all the more difficult by the harsh climate, the poor existing infrastructure and the Arctic’s vast expanses. Today, there is no success story that Russia might use as a template to follow. Time and money are the only answers to this problem. What’s more, Russia will increasingly have to compete with other countries’ Arctic aims. In particular, Moscow should continue negotiations with China, so as to better understand each other’s red lines.

U.S. sanctions and the fact that Russia is still drafting legislation specifically for the Arctic region means it will be more difficult to attract foreign or domestic investment.

First published in The Moscow Times

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