June 4, 2009 (the date of publication in Russian)
RUNNING OUT OF TIME WITH AN ARCTIC ISSUE
While our northern territories are relatively safe, Russia need to urgently upgrade its Arctic infrastructure
Escalation of the struggle for the Arctic and its hydrocarbon resources is an obvious fact. In such situation, our military presence there is a matter of great importance, though there are plenty "civil" questions that also have to be solved. We have to deal not only with military issues, but also with the civil ones: Northern Sea Route, hydrography, geophysics, etc.
Let us honestly admit to ourselves: in the current situation, neither Norwegians nor Canadians with Americans will dare to invade the Russian sector of the Arctic to build their drilling platforms just nearby the Siberian shores or in the Barents Sea. Firstly, because this is quite long-run operation, which Russia even in its current condition (pretty unpretentious comparing to Soviet times) can nip in the bud. In order to do this it's enough to create a special mobile military group, which can be parachuted on the ice from the Ilyushin-76 transport planes (we have such experience since 1984). While on the water we can block any attempt of oil-producing with the ships of the Northern fleet. Of course, nowadays the whole Northern fleet is weaker than even a single U.S. assault group with an aircraft carrier. But who would dare to come to grips with a nuclear power?
Also, extracted oil has to be carried from the region. It's not enough just to have ice-resistant drilling platforms (which is Norwegian monopoly) and ice-reinforced tankers: you would also need powerful icebreakers (preferably the atomic ones) and a functioning Northern Sea Route for the transit. Our opponents in the Arctic don't have a lot of icebreakers and as for the Northern Sea Route it's still in our hands. Creation of their own route, lying in the territory of Russia without the notification of Moscow – it seems to be a plot for a science fiction novel.
Situation when our geopolitical opponents will produce oil near our shores, without paying attention to our will, is possible in the only case Ц if another civil war will break out in Russia, our nuclear arsenal would disappear and the Moscow government wouldn't be able to control our northern territories. Or if Russia would collapse into parts and the leaders of newly-born northern "sovereign countries" would call upon the Western corporations for the development of the treasures of our shelf. Of course, our Arctic neighbors could have allowed themselves some escapades if the Arctic Ocean would rapidly lose its shell made of ice hummocks. But as for now, our scientists assert that in this field the situation would rather become more complicated than vice versa.
That's why from the military and the "drilling" points of view, Moscow still has nothing to be afraid of. Nowadays the priorities in the Russian Arctic are different. We still have some time and possibilities in store.
Today Russia has to solve the real, but not the virtual problems of our North. And first of all it refers to the degraded state of the Northern Sea Route. The need to concentrate the administration of it in the hands of some special governmental body reliable enough has matured long ago, but the things haven't got forward an inch. What we should do with the Northern Sea Route is a different subject and we will dedicate a special article to it. One thing is clear Ц without the fully operational Northern Sea Route the Russian dominance in the basin of the Arctic Ocean is impossible. It is also our trump card in the matter of development of the oil and gas deposits of the shelf.
Moscow needs to quickly organize the construction of a new fleet of atomic ice-breakers: we also have some problems with that issue. We also need to urgently update our hydrographic, synoptic and geophysical supply of the route (and the whole Arctic sector as well), to create pilot and rescue stations. Finally, we need to build up the satellite group at the polar orbit. All these matters are quite neglected nowadays.
Obviously, we need the complex plan for the development of the Arctic as a vital part of the general plan of the development of Russia. Do not understand this Ц means to show remarkable stupidity. And while we have the military ability to protect our Northern sector, we have to deal with utility and economic matters. Because it's easy to predict the next move of our opponents Ц it would be the global propaganda campaign: "Look at those Russians Ц they can't develop the deposits of the North and don't allow 'civilized countries' to do this also".
(To be continued)
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