In the spring of this year, the U.S. transferred to Finland the chairmanship of the Arctic Council, which rotates every two years among Arctic nations. On Monday, President Trump will meet with the Finnish president to discuss the Russian situation in the Baltics and the Arctic. Here’s what we know…
- Finland is not a NATO member. While officially they remain neutral, they are considered a NATO ally against Russia.
- The Russian Zapad 2017 military exercise will be one of the largest in history. Taking place in September, NATO expects Russian activity to be high in and around the Baltic Sea.
- The Arctic continues to be a prominent piece of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plans to reinvigorate the Russian Empire. Calling for a rearmament of the Russian military, Putin said, “The Defense Ministry, Federal Security Service and its border branch need to implement their plans aimed at protecting national interests from the point of view of bolstering the country’s defense capabilities and protecting our interests in the Arctic.” Regular readers will know that the Arctic has become a pressing issue for Putin, and that the Russian military is a much more capable animal than even a few short years ago.
- The Russian military is heavily reinforcing its presence in the Arctic to break NATO containment and potentially challenge the U.S. to the north. According to Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK), “Over the last two years, Russia has continued its massive buildup of the Arctic.” Along with four new brigade combat teams, the Russian military has developed an additional 14 airfields and is scheduled to continue to add ships to its Arctic fleet this year. “Clearly, Russia is militarizing the Arctic. What’s their end game? And to me that’s a really important question,” Sullivan said.
- Russia’s Northern Fleet (which covers the Baltic, Arctic, and Mediterranean Seas, and the Atlantic Ocean) has had a busy 2017. In addition to receiving a handful of Sukhoi-30SMs (Russia’s 4th Generation Plus fighter jets intended to counter the US F-35), the Northern Fleet will make defensive improvements to the Arctic a top priority.
- Last year the Russian Defense Ministry announced plans to build or reconstruct in the Arctic 10 airfields in order to strengthen Russia’s presence in the northern latitudes. More than 150 facilities – lighthouses, islands, and military units – are planned to be delivered to remote military garrisons. “The Northern delivery is planned for the favorable weather conditions period in order to safely ship cargoes to the most difficult in terms of delivery and unloading places.” In late 2015, Russia completed equipping its six military bases in the Arctic.
- U.S. Northern Command is currently studying how best to respond militarily in the Arctic to the increased Russian presence.
- The U.S. Geological Survey believes 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its untapped natural gas may lie buried in the Arctic. Melting ice in some parts is expected to make drilling — and shipping — that oil and gas much easier.
Some of these topics are sure to be the focus of this afternoon’s talks.