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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Russia Makes A Play For The Arctic

Link: Russia Militarizes The Arctic

In the past few months, I 've seen a number of disturbing reports about Russia's intention to
militarize the Arctic.  The Business Insider and have been right on top of the development, which comes in the wake of Russia's unilateral annexation of the Crimea.  During the Cold War, the Russian military had a tremendous presence north of the Arctic Circle.  The Russians kept a chain of airbases functional and well-defended, to support both bomber and fighter squadrons, should the need arise.  In the past six months, the Russians have re-occupied abandoned military and air bases on Novaya Zemlya Island, and also re-established a military presence on Franz-Josef Land.  Why is Vladimir Putin exhausting resources north of the Equator, when the Ruble is in the tank, inflation is taking off, and the Ukrainian Conflict is nowhere near being settled?  It's simple.  Geologists and other nerdy smart guys that used to always beat me at Trivial Pursuit in High School, have determined that thirty percent of the world's natural gas reserves lie under the Arctic shelf, along with thirteen percent of the world's remaining oil reserves.  It makes complete sense that Putin wants to militarily muscle-out the Denmarks and the Norways, before they find a way to get NATO involved.

We all have been reading the news lately that the Russian economy is in a freefall....yawn.  To be honest, the state of an economy is best represented by the attitude of the people, and the Russian
people seem to be just fine, thank you very much.  They continue to support Tsar Vlad the Shirtless in almost unbelievable numbers.  It has everything to do with a gene that the Russian people developed sometime around 1942, when German panzers were rolling across the Russian Steppe, seemingly hurrying to a date in Moscow.  Something in the collective soul of the Russian people clicked, and everyone became a dedicated nationalist.  That doesn't mean that the Russians can't go after each other with a long knife now and then, but when it comes to diplomacy and issues with foreign countries, the Russians demand a strong, aggressive leader.  Maybe Hitler's betrayal after the
successful treaty between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany to butcher innocent Poles and carve up Poland in 1939, still has the Russian people feeling nationalistic.  Certainly the Russian government's actions in Ukraine are supported by the majority of the Russian people.  They may grumble a bit about the latest group of Putin political opponents who are thrown in jail without being charged, and they may whine occasionally about the increasing cost of Borsht and Vodka. But in the end, the Russian people will support Putin.  That issue is decided.

The Russian government was obliged to cut spending in every department except the Department of Defense.  Putin managed to wrangle a twenty-percent increase in defense spending, almost the exact amount which was cut from the education budget.  As you can determine for yourself from reviewing the link, Putin has been spending this largesse on beefing up Russia's military resources north of the Arctic Circle.  Already, two-thirds of the Russian Surface Fleet is in the North Sea, and the Russian Navy continues to be the only navy in the world with nuclear-powered Ice Breakers; what a luxury!
Maybe they will trade us one for a few Zamboni?  During the dark days of Soviet militarism and the
Iron Curtain, the Russian military would send its special forces to camps in the Arctic to train and "toughen up".  Still doesn't hold a candle to Camp Pendleton, Ft. Benning, Ft. Bragg., or Ft. Hood.  Putin has created new, modern units of ground forces with the latest equipment, and it's my understanding that these poor bastards are up on Novaya Zemlya right now, trying to find a way to cook tundra for dinner. 

So the Russians have decided to make the issue of ownership of the Arctic natural gas and oil
 reserves a fait accompli.  Considering the amount of natural gas and oil the Russians already own, and their willingness to use it as a diplomatic battering ram in eastern Europe, this is an issue which should be addressed.  Can you hear the crickets coming from the Obama Administration?  When it comes to foreign policy, amateur hour has been in full session for six years.  A quick review of a map will illustrate that Russia does not have undisputed rights to the territory they claim (no big surprise there).  The United States, Canada, and even Denmark have unresolved boundary issues with Russia in the Arctic region.  We aren't really a player, because even if we were in complete possession of the
area, our own politicians wouldn't let us exploit that economic bounty.  The real loser in this picture is Norway.  The Norwegians have made a serious effort to delineate its northern boundary in recent years.  Norway has also spent a surprising amount of money on its military, and even conducted military exercises in Finnmark, the land of the Lapp Folks, reindeer and Santa Claus.  Its also within the toss of an empty Vodka bottle from Russian territory.  If the Norwegians were so inclined, they could declare possession of certain areas that appear to contain a shit load of natural gas. Norway could take their claim to the International Court, or the UN, or this group, or that group, and demand that Russia not infringe upon Norway's territorial integrity.  Russia could probably do without the little piece that belongs to Norway and still end up way ahead of the field, but that is not Putin's style.  Putin is like the prize-fighter who isn't satisfied winning a judges decision.  Putin wants to pummel the other guy until both his eyes are swollen shut and he is called down for the count in the five round.  Putin doesn't like taking prisoners.  What will be very interesting is if Putin allows Norway to keep partial possession of Spitsbergen.  The Russians will not come to an agreement with a member of NATO.  In the end, might will trump manners as it usually does, especially if the issue is resolved before 2016.  Not that the Norwegian people need anymore dough themselves.  Jeez, talk about the rich getting richer.  Norway is like the Oman of the north.  A small population made drunk by a never-ending supply of petro-dollars.  But I like Oman and the Omanis, and I like the Norwegians.  They gave the Germans hell in World War II, and for that I hold them in high esteem.  God help me, I don't like the Russians (save the e-mails...I adore Russian-Americans), which is sad, because I used to be fascinated by all things east of the Vistula.  I just recently devoured a new biography of Rasputin that I stumbled upon.  But Putin has me out of sorts, and for the time being, I can't help but see them as the enemy....again.   

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