Russian-Chinese Arctic cooperation a threat to NATO, says Stoltenberg

On Friday, NATO General Jens Stoltenberg said climate change was making the High North, or Arctic region, more attractive militarily and financially to the alliance. He also stressed that the coalition sees the Far North as “strategically important for Euro-Atlantic security.”

Stoltenberg also wrote for the Canadian newspaper “The Globe and Mail” on Thursday that cooperation between Russia and China in the Arctic posed a strategic challenge to the values ​​and interests of the alliance, adding that Moscow “has significantly increased its military activity in recent years” in the Region. China is also expanding its presence in the region, declaring itself a “near-Arctic state” and plans to build a “Polar Silk Road” linking it to Europe via the Arctic, according to the secretary-general.

Russian interest in the Arctic

The Far North or Far North became a field of fierce competition between Arctic, subarctic and non-regional powers. Both “hard” and “soft” power tools are used. Since 2008, the NATO bloc has significantly expanded its activities in the Far North; a series of exercises were held under its auspices. But several NATO countries have their own ambitions and claims on this region, which has led to conflicts between the United States and Canada, Denmark and Canada, Denmark and Norway over specific policy issues. arctic (determination of zones of economic influence, division of the shelf continent, etc.).

Russian policy in the Arctic is focused on fossil fuel extraction and is becoming increasingly militarized. This forces the Nordic countries, as well as the United States and NATO, to increase their military presence in the region, which is increasingly attracting China with its ambitious geostrategic plans. Climate change inspires both hope for increased use of the Northern Sea Route and fear that, at least in theory, it will make Russia’s Arctic Ocean coast less protected. But at the same time, the melting of polar ice expands the operational capabilities of the Russian army, which worries NATO countries.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu previously said that the formal participation of Helsinki and Stockholm in NATO and the possible availability of the territory of these states for the deployment of offensive weapons would change the security conditions. in the Baltic and Arctic region, requiring a revision of Russian Territorial Defense approaches. Stoltenberg echoes this in his article, stating that “seven of the eight Arctic nations will be members of NATO” if Sweden and Finland join NATO. Five countries on the Arctic coast, Canada, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Norway and the United States, are members of NATO, which Russia considers its geopolitical adversary.

Russia takes advantage of the indecision of its Arctic rivals; the objective importance of this region for Moscow is reflected in the fact that Russia began to pay special attention to the Arctic much earlier than other countries. In recent years, attention to the Arctic has grown and is reflected in published materials, ranging from official documents to journal articles and analytical publications. Russian experts, expressing their views on the Arctic, often accept and dispute the position of the West. Then there is a bipolar rivalry between the United States and Russia in the Arctic.

The Arctic is extremely rich in minerals: researchers estimate that there are around 13% of the world’s oil reserves undiscovered. The arctic zone also contains deposits of natural gas, nickel ores, rare metals, gold, diamonds, tungsten, mercury and other minerals. In the Russian Arctic, a significant part of the country’s fossil resources is already exploited.

Chinese interest in the Arctic

China is showing more and more openly its desire to expand its presence in the Arctic. At the same time, Beijing is interested in opportunities to invest in mining in Russia’s far north and to use the route along the Russian coast as a kind of Arctic Silk Road and d military options. Parts of the Chinese fleet could be transferred along this route from the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic, and the deployment of Chinese submarines in the Arctic Ocean would reduce the theoretical time needed for ballistic missiles to reach American territory. .

Russian and Chinese Arctic interests

Earlier this year, Beijing and Moscow pledged to increase practical cooperation in the Arctic as part of a deep strategic partnership that challenges NATO values ​​and interests, Stoltenberg wrote.

Neither Russia nor China will want to play the role of junior partner in the Arctic, and the construction of Chinese icebreakers, including nuclear ones, is interpreted as proof that “Beijing will remain a difficult and autonomous partner” for Russia .

Ice ceases to be a natural shield

The “eternal ice” has long served as a natural shield for Russia’s northern maritime borders, which are 24,000 kilometers long. The situation is changing rapidly now, as the Arctic is warming three times faster than the rest of the world.

Russia’s northern border, from the Kola Peninsula in the Barents Sea to the Chukchi Sea, was irrelevant for many centuries. But now she fears that she will become vulnerable along these newly accessible sea routes, that there are open flanks and convenient places for potential enemies to invade. Warships could theoretically attack from the east, via the Bering Strait, or from the west, via Greenland and Norway.

Strengthening the northern border defenses is in Russia’s legitimate interest. At the same time, Moscow has used this process in recent years to expand its sphere of military influence across the Arctic. After all, the melting ice exposes the maritime borders of neighboring countries Over time, the United States faces the growing threat of Russian conventional and nuclear weapons systems in the Arctic.

A new sea route ready to compete

Both sides are keen on establishing new trade and sea routes. Russia is interested in the Northern Sea Route, which connects China and Europe and runs along the Russian Arctic coast from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait. Canada and the United States are interested in the Northwest Passage, which runs along the northern coast of North America via waterways through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago to Europe.

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