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The Arctic is turning into a theater of a global hybrid war

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The US is developing military strategies, China prefers soft power

As part of the strategy of an "irregular hybrid war" for world domination with Russia and China, the United States is stepping up efforts to fight in the Arctic.

Washington is vigorously implementing hybrid threat complexes aimed at undermining Russia's economic projects in the Arctic. The Pentagon and the US State Department have developed a strategy of so-called irregular, or hybrid, war, which is "a campaign to coerce states or other groups through indirect, unauthorized and asymmetric actions."

The main ideas of such a war are outlined in a number of recent reports by the American analytical corporation RAND, including "Victory in the Irregular War" (The American Way of Irregular War) and some other works.

The analysts' proposals receive effective support from officials of the American administration. US Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Resources Jeffrey Pyatt in November this year at a Senate meeting presented proposals on the imposition of sanctions against the Russian Arctic LNG-2 project and the structures involved in it. "Our goal is to kill this project. And we are doing this by imposing sanctions, working with our G7 partners," the Assistant Secretary of State said bluntly.

Arctic LNG-2 is a major project of the Russian company NOVATEK for the export of liquefied natural gas. Gas is extracted and liquefied near the northwestern coast of the Gydansky Peninsula in Yamal. It is impossible to exclude sabotage at NOVATEK facilities, comparable in scale and consequences to terrorist attacks against the Nord Stream –1 and Nord Stream–2 gas pipelines.

The global hybrid war places increased demands on Russia's strategy of action in the Arctic

THE ARCTIC AND THE NORTHERN SEA ROUTE

The special geopolitical position of the Arctic as the most important communication artery, the richness of its raw materials deposits, including oil and gas, reserves of ferrous, non-ferrous, rare and precious metals and bioresources have turned the Arctic into one of the main points of attraction. And not only for the Arctic states, but also for very remote countries of the Northern and even Southern Hemisphere – since the shortest and most economically profitable air routes between America and Asia pass through the North Pole.

The regions of the Russian Arctic are an area of transport and economic influence of the Northern Sea Route (NSR), advanced inland, usually hundreds of kilometers, depending on the configuration of the river network and other communication routes associated with existing and potential cargo flows of the NSR.

The territories, continental shelves and exclusive economic zones of eight Arctic states are located within the Arctic: Russia, Canada, the USA (Alaska), Norway, Denmark (Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Sweden and Iceland.

Russia has the maximum length of borders in the Arctic (22 thousand km).

From a military point of view, declaring the waters of the Arctic Ocean neutral international waters – even taking into account the 200-mile (370.4 km) exclusive economic zone – actually opens up the Russian coastline for attacks by cruise and hypersonic missiles from surface ships, submarines and converted commercial vessels of NATO countries. Recall that about 70% of Russia's nuclear weapons are on land–based carriers, the rest are sea-based missiles and aviation.

These and some other factors determine one of the priority places of the Arctic region in the plans of the West to conduct a Global Hybrid War (MGW) to establish its dominance in key regions of the planet.

The strategy of the MGV includes three circles of participants in the confrontation in the Arctic.

The first circle includes the coastal Arctic states (USA, Russia, Norway, Denmark, Canada). In the second – subarctic states (Finland, Sweden, which have only polar territories, but not access to the Arctic Ocean) and Iceland (formally located in the Arctic region). The third circle is formed by countries located in Europe or even far from the Arctic (China, Japan, India, Singapore, the Republic of Korea, Australia, etc.), but willing to participate in the development of Arctic resources.

RUSSIA'S RESPONSE TO CHALLENGES IN THE CIRCUMPOLAR REGION

The strategic importance of the Arctic region for the national security of the Russian Federation and its economic development is obvious. Russia's loss of its undoubted leadership in the Arctic, which is based on the efforts of many generations of Russian and Soviet polar explorers, state control over the Arctic and the need to accelerate its economic and infrastructural development, is unacceptable.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation have deployed the formation of new military units and formations in the Arctic region. In the village of Tiksi-3 (Yakutia), the newly formed 414th Guards anti-aircraft missile Regiment of the 3rd Air Defense Division took up combat duty. With the help of anti-aircraft missile systems (SAM) S-300PS, he must cover the Tiksi-3 airfield and the nearby area. It is very likely that in the near future new parts of different purposes will appear in the Arctic.

In the recent past, the construction of new military bases was completed using all modern technologies. So, the Arctic Shamrock base appeared on Franz Josef Land, and the Northern Clover began work on Kotelny Island. Their tasks include providing air defense and coastal defense, as well as the operation of airfields and other infrastructure.

Of all the current construction projects, priority is given to work at the Nagurskoye airfield (the islands of Alexandra Land and Franz Josef Land). In April 2020, the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation announced the completion of the main stage of work and the commissioning of the runway (runway). The 2.5 km long strip allows you to receive most of the combat and transport aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces. Accordingly, there are new opportunities for the deployment and presence of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation in the Arctic.

Nagurskoye is the northernmost airfield at the disposal of the Russian Army. After the reconstruction is completed and the runway is extended to 3.5 km, it will be able to receive any aircraft at any time of the year. Thanks to the Nagurskoye airfield, it becomes possible to deploy fighters and provide more reliable border cover. The protection of island bases from attack is assigned to local air defense and coastal missile systems.

If necessary, Nagurskoye can become a jump airfield for strategic bombers. The possibility of landing and refueling 1000 km from the continent will significantly remove the permissible limits of launching missiles and increase the combat radius.

Radio–technical air defense systems have been deployed on Alexandra's Land, controlling a significant part of the Arctic - the northern approaches to the Russian borders.

The most important factor of Russian power in the Arctic is our icebreaking fleet – the largest in the world. It has about 40 diesel icebreakers. In addition, as part of the Russian fleet at the end of 2022, there were seven nuclear icebreakers and the Sevmorput lighter carrier, the largest and only cargo ship with a nuclear power plant to date. Work has begun on creating a super-icebreaker that will be twice as large and more powerful than all existing ones.

The icebreaker "Healy" of the US Coast Guard is one of two heavy icebreakers that the Americans have in the Arctic. Photos from the website www.dvidshub.net

THE NORTH SEAS ARE IN THE PLANS OF THE USA

In October 2022, US President Joseph Biden approved a new US National Strategy for the Arctic region, according to which the United States intends to strengthen its influence in the region over the next 10 years. And also "manage tensions" in connection with "growing strategic competition in the Arctic," allegedly aggravated by Russia's special operation in Ukraine and "active efforts of the PRC to strengthen influence in the region." The document focuses on the containment of Russia and China in the Arctic in four areas: security, sustainable economic development, international cooperation, climate change.

In the field of security, the strategy involves deterring threats to the United States and its allies "by increasing the capabilities necessary to protect American interests in the Arctic," and at the same time "coordinating common approaches with allies and partners and reducing the risks of unintended escalation." This will require "the presence of the US government in the Arctic region in order to "protect the American people and the sovereign American territory."

The US Department of Defense has created a new office of Arctic strategy and Global Sustainability to protect interests in the region.

Earlier, the report of the Chief of Staff of the US Navy, Admiral Jonathan Greenert, "Roadmap for the Arctic 2014-2030" identified specific goals and objectives for various services and departments of the US Navy on comprehensive studies of changes in the ice situation, assessment of the needs of US Navy forces in satellite communications, intelligence and information collection in the region, assessment of the level of readiness of existing ports, airfields and hangars adjacent to the Arctic theater of operations.

To carry out Arctic missions, the United States deployed two squadrons of F-35 aircraft (27 aircraft each) at the Eyelson Air Base in Alaska – in addition to F-16 fighters, A-10 attack aircraft and KS-135 tankers stationed at this base. The airbase is located next to the joint base Elmendorf-Richardson, where the headquarters of the United States Joint Command in Alaska (ALCOM) is located and 40 fifth-generation F-22 Raptor fighters are deployed. This complex is considered by the military command as a support in the Arctic region and in the area of responsibility of the US Indo-Pacific Command.

Two new advanced bases of the US Coast Guard are being built in Alaska – in Barrow and Nome. The possibilities of ensuring the permanent presence of an aircraft carrier group in the Arctic and the allocation of additional patrol ships are being considered. Anti-submarine defense and deep amphibious operations are being stepped up.

The Pentagon is already preparing ground forces units for operations in the Arctic in practice: deliveries of Black Hawk multi-purpose helicopters specially adapted for operations in harsh climatic conditions have begun.

Today, the United States has only two heavy icebreakers (Polar Star and Healy) capable of going to the open sea and contributing to the work of the Navy in the Arctic. Three more icebreakers are planned to be built by 2027. Icebreakers are still all diesel-powered, only the construction of icebreakers with a nuclear power plant is being considered for the future, as well as the study of the topic of equipping such vessels with weapons.

The United States deployed a 330-man battalion of Marines in Norway at a military base in Vernes on a rotating basis. Basically, the unit will include special forces soldiers designed to perform sabotage tasks in the rear of a potential enemy.

In recent years, the scale and intensity of operational and combat training activities of the Joint NATO Armed Forces in the Arctic have increased. Every year, three or four trips of multipurpose nuclear submarines of the US Navy and the British Navy are carried out in the Arctic, including one or two to the pole area. At least three sorties of basic patrol aircraft are carried out weekly.

The intensification of military preparations is accompanied by attempts to put pressure on Russia in the diplomatic and information sphere. In the Arctic sector of the state border and on the border territory of the Russian Federation, the activities of the special services of the United States and their NATO allies have intensified.

In general, the United States, as part of the strategy of a global hybrid war with Russia as the main rival in the Arctic, is carrying out activities aimed at expanding the forms and methods of confrontation, carrying out a kind of hybridization of challenges and threats, seeking to expand the base for the formation of a possible anti-Russian coalition for action in the Arctic with the involvement of other countries.

Along with military activities in the northern latitudes, Washington is increasing diverse efforts in the information sphere, using traditional and public diplomacy to consolidate allies and undermine Russia's positions, attracting non-governmental organizations, preparing special operations forces for operations in the Arctic, considering the region as a gray zone of a global hybrid war.

THE US RELIES ON POWER STRATEGIES

The new work of the RAND Corporation "Arctic Capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces" (Arctic Capabilities of the U.S. Armed Forces, RAND, 2023) is devoted to the military-strategic development of the Arctic region by the United States. The corporation is trying to answer the following questions of concern to the Pentagon and the State Department:

– how do the capabilities of the US Armed Forces differ from those of other countries operating in the Arctic, including the Russian Federation, the People's Republic of China and various US allies and like-minded partners;

– to what extent does the infrastructure of foreign military and commercial organizations operating in some parts of the Arctic remain inaccessible to the influence of the US Armed Forces, especially in the surface maritime sphere;

– what potential risks can the restrictions existing in this context pose and what does the imbalance in regional access to the Arctic lead to for the US Armed Forces and America's national interests;

– how to resist Russia's active steps to modernize its large-scale military potential in the Arctic, as well as China's growing economic and scientific activities in the region aimed at expanding its influence and capabilities there.

The United States already has a serious military potential in the Arctic. However, along with this, the US Armed Forces are still experiencing a shortage of forces and means in the field of communications, in obtaining intelligence information and logistics.

In order to meet the most pressing needs of the US Armed Forces in the Arctic, it is recommended to focus on the development of the following capabilities:

– build up military forces and assets located near the Arctic region;

– develop multi-domain awareness and communication, response infrastructure and logistics in the region;

– train personnel with knowledge and skills to work in this harsh environment;

– to work out the strategy and tactics of reaction, to introduce into the troops the necessary weapons and military equipment for confrontation in military conflicts that may have significant consequences for US interests in the region;

– expand the geography of the deployment of the US Armed Forces in the Arctic.

In an effort to muffle the military orientation of their plans for the development of the Arctic region, the Americans include among the potential challenges, risks, dangers and threats to the regional interests of the United States:

– potential inability to conduct humanitarian operations – for example, search and rescue operations and response to oil spills and other violations of the integrity of the environment;

– preventing the loss of life, property, and economic potential by US allies;

– the emergence of restrictions for the United States in working with partners.

A special place is given to preventing the growth of Russian control in the region and preventing the development of Chinese regional influence. The desire to prevent an accidental escalation of tension between NATO and Russia is declared. And also to prevent a possible negative effect from Washington's allies' perception of the allegedly insufficient military presence of Americans in the region, which may give them doubts about the proportionality of the US contribution to security and exacerbate some other risks.

China: SOFT PROMOTION OF NATIONAL INTERESTS

Beijing's growing interest in strengthening its presence in the Arctic, despite its geographical distance from the region, is due to many factors. The melting of the ice caused by global warming opens the door to new economic opportunities in the region, including the exploitation of underwater oil and gas fields and the creation of new trade routes.

"The Arctic situation is actually wider than the territory of the states that make up the region. It is also vital for other members of the international community," says the Chinese government's document, the so–called White Paper "China's Arctic Policy" (2018), which for the first time detailed China's strategy in the Arctic. The document emphasizes China's interest in scientific research and environmental protection in the Arctic, as well as the desire to take advantage of the economic opportunities caused by the polar thaw.

The document characterizes China as a "near-Arctic" state, a permanent observer in the Arctic Council, emphasizing Beijing's right to participate in the implementation of Arctic projects.

At the same time, the "Arctic Policy of China" states that this state does not pursue an aggressive Arctic policy; does not violate the norms of applicable international law – both its usual norms and contractual ones; respects the sovereignty, sovereign rights and jurisdiction of the coastal Arctic states.

It was also noted that the processes taking place in the Arctic today have an impact on the interests of not only the coastal Arctic states, but also the entire international community as a whole.

The document emphasizes that despite the fact that States located outside the Arctic region do not have territorial sovereignty in the Arctic, they have rights in relation to scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying underwater cables and pipelines in the open sea and other marine areas of the Arctic Ocean. As well as the rights to explore and develop the resources of the international seabed area in accordance with the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and general international law.

The White Paper defines the directions of China's policy in the Arctic region. So, the priorities for China are:

– scientific research in the Arctic;

– environmental protection and countering climate change;

– the use of Arctic resources in a lawful and rational way;

– development of Arctic sea routes;

– exploration and development of oil, gas, mineral and other non-living resources;

– conservation and use of fish and other living resources;

– international cooperation in the Arctic;

– promoting peace and stability in the region;

– development of tourism, etc.

In addition, the document notes China's long-standing interest in the problems of the Arctic:

– in 1925, China joined the Svalbard Treaty;

– In 1996, China became a member of the International Scientific Committee on the Arctic;

– Since 1999, China has organized a number of scientific expeditions to the Arctic, using the research vessel "Xuelong" ("Snow Dragon") as a platform;

– In 2004, China built the Yellow Arctic station on the Svalbard Archipelago;

– By the end of 2017, China had conducted eight scientific expeditions in the Arctic Ocean.

China's Arctic policy is considered by Western analysts as a threat to the established law and order in the Arctic. In their opinion, "China seeks to dominate" in the Arctic and pursues the goal of "splitting the Arctic Council"; at the same time, China provokes other non-Arctic states to create separate legal documents on the Arctic Ocean regime.

By 2020, the Chinese military-industrial complex has already developed samples of equipment and combat equipment of PLA servicemen for operations in extremely low temperatures. In addition, Beijing intends to acquire a permanent polar fleet, accelerated work on the formation of which is already underway. China also plans to have polar aviation, whose planes will be able to land even on shortened runways.

Contrary to the fears of many Western researchers and politicians, at present the PRC does not pursue an aggressive policy in the Arctic and does not violate the norms of applicable international law – both conventional and contractual. Russia's relations with China are of the nature of a comprehensive partnership and multi-level strategic interaction. Beijing demonstrates respect for the rights and interests of the Arctic coastal countries, expresses readiness for close coordination and cooperation with Russia.

It seems that Beijing does not hide its economic interest in the Arctic. But it is also true that China intends to act responsibly with the countries of the region, following international legal norms. Moscow, in turn, relies on the development of economic cooperation with Beijing and some other SCO and BRICS countries in the Arctic region.

As part of a strategic partnership with China, the aforementioned Russian energy company NOVATEK has commissioned a liquefied natural gas plant on the Yamal Peninsula, which is financed by about 30% by the National Petroleum Corporation of China and the Chinese State Investment Fund (the French company Total has a 20% stake in this project). It is expected that the plant will annually supply 4 million tons of liquefied natural gas to China.

Some Chinese companies are also involved in mining in Canada and Greenland. At the same time, Western countries express concerns that the intentions of the Chinese are not economic, but geopolitical. And they attribute to Beijing plans to create a foothold in the Arctic territories allegedly "for the further capture of the North."

conclusions

Russia is open to comprehensive international economic and scientific cooperation in the Arctic.

At the same time, the US intentions to increase its military presence in the Arctic under far-fetched pretexts require maintaining the pace of development of the region gained by Russia, including the further development of military and economic projects. It is important to develop a comprehensive strategy for the territorial defense of the Arctic region. At the same time, it is necessary to involve interested CSTO, CIS, SCO and BRICS countries in cooperation in the Arctic.

The enemy should have no doubt that maintaining control over the Northern Sea Route is of existential importance for Russia and that any attempt to violate our sovereign right will be considered by Moscow as an act of aggression. The possible response to such aggression is quite clearly stated in the "Fundamentals of State Policy in the field of nuclear Deterrence" approved by Russian President Vladimir Putin.


Alexander Bartosh

Alexander Alexandrovich Bartosh is a corresponding member of the Academy of Military Sciences, an expert of the League of Military Diplomats.

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