May 13th, 2019

Moscow’s Arctic ambitions give Washington the chills

The Arctic has become  “an arena of global power and competition,” said US Secretary of State  Mike Pompeo during last week’s meeting of the body, comprising eight  Arctic countries and representatives of the indigenous people of the  region, in Roveaniemi, Finland.

Particularly worrying, Pompeo said, was Russia’s “aggressive  behavior” – referring to its increasing military presence in the Arctic  and recent demands that foreign vessels should ask Moscow’s permission  before transiting through the Northern Sea Route.

With the Arctic Council customarily focused on environmental and  development issues, Pompeo’s comments on geopolitics and security were  highly unusual. The meeting ended without a multilateral ministerial  joint statement.

Clearly, the geopolitical importance of the Arctic is rising. As the  ice shelf shrinks due to global warming, the region is increasingly  accessible to exploitation, while previously inaccessible commercial  routes connecting Europe with Asia are now becoming viable.

These routes could carry a significant portion of global trade in the  future, and when it comes to asserting control, recent Russian ship  seizures in the Sea of Avoz provide a worrying precedent, one expert  said.

The Northeast Passage

The Northern Sea Route (NSR) – sometimes called the “Northeast  Passage,” analogous to Canada’s “Northwest Passage” – runs along  Russia’s vast northern coastline from the Kara Sea all the way to the  Bering Strait.

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