Russia is intensifying its efforts to expand its economic control over the Arctic. Russian President Vladimir Putin launched the development of the major Kharasaveyskoye Gas Field on the Yamal Peninsula in Northern Russia on March 20. The Russian Ministry of Natural Resources submitted a comprehensive plan regarding the Arctic on March 13. The plan included over one hundred projects intended to develop mineral resources in the region as the polar icecaps continue to shrink. Putin is increasingly prioritizing investment in the Arctic as a source of potential future economic growth for Russia. The Arctic currently accounts for 12-15% of Russia’s GDP. Putin signed a decree granting additional authorities over socioeconomic development in the Arctic to the Russian Ministry of Far East Development in February 2019.
The Kremlin is also continuing its military buildup in the Far North. Russian Northern Fleet Commander Adm. Nikolay Yevmenov stated that the Russian Armed Forces would soon finish a new air defense base in the village of Tiksi above the Arctic Circle. Russia has been expanding its military presence in the region in recent years with new military installations, additions to its already-dominant icebreaker fleet, and deployments of area defense systems including the S-400 and Tor-M2DT Surface-to-Air Missile Systems (SAMS) and Bastion Anti-Ship Missiles. The Kremlin aims to solidify Russia’s position as a dominant power in the Arctic primarily to secure uncontested access to economic resources in the Arctic Circle as well as the Northern Sea Route. Russia will likely expedite this effort in tandem with the release of a new U.S. Arctic Strategy currently set to be presented to the U.S. Congress by June 2019.
Russia is asserting its control over the Northern Sea Route (NSR) to secure access to future maritime trade and gain strategic advantage over the U.S. and China. Pro-Kremlin Izvestia reported on March 6 that new regulations would oblige foreign military vessels to notify Russia at least forty-five days in advance of their plans for transiting the Northern Sea Route and accept onboard pilots from Russia.