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“The overhaul of Russian strategic planning for the Arctic Zone to 2035”

  • Last updated: 19 May. 2020 12:15

Russian Studies Series 3/20

DOCUMENT REVIEW

by Elizabeth Buchanan1

“The overhaul of Russian strategic planning for the Arctic Zone to 2035”

Review of:

  • - Foundations of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the Period to 2035
  • - Strategy of Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and the Provision of National Security for the Period to 2035
  • - State Programme “Socio-Economic Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation”


The Russian leadership is in the throes of overhauling its long-term strategic planning documents to the late 2020s and beyond. Recent publications include the State Arms Plan to 2027, an updated Strategy for the Development of Marine Activities to 2030, and the publication of Russia’s new Energy Strategy to 2035. The preparation of other key documents such as the National Security Strategy, due later this year,2 is also underway. The Arctic region permeates this overhaul, featuring explicitly and implicitly in a number of documents as a major economic and security priority.

But early 2020 has also seen the emergence of a web of projects relating directly to Russian strategic thinking in the Arctic. On 5 March, President Putin signed the document “Regarding the Foundations of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic in the Period to 2035” (below “State Policy”).3 Alongside this are two other major projects. First, on 20 th February, the Russian National Security Council, the main interagency body for coordinating and overseeing Russian strategic planning, announced the preparation of the project for a “Strategy of Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and the Provision of National Security for the Period to 2035” (below “Strategy of Development”). This project is to be the mechanism for the realization of the State Policy, and points to a range of priorities for Russia from national security and threats, to the ecosystem, and to the maintenance of Russia’s ”scientific-technological leadership” in the region.4 If these two documents are considered to be a ”unified plan”, their implementation will be based on a third document, a newly prepared edition of the State Programme “Socio-Economic Development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation”.5

Together, this web of documents constitutes Russia’s updated plan for the Arctic, outlining Moscow’s long term priorities to ensure national security and protect national interests in the Russian Arctic Zone. It serves to emphasise the high priority that Moscow accords to the region across a number of areas. It canvasses traditional national interests and reflects a high degree of continuity with previous iterations, though of course, there are also some interesting changes.

Russia’s Arctic planning is of consequence to NATO, and it is crucial for the Alliance to understand Moscow’s long-term vision. NATO-members constitute four or five of the 5 Arctic-rim powers (those states which border the Arctic Ocean: Canada, US, Norway, Denmark, Russia). NATO-members are further represented in key regional governance institutions such as the Arctic Council. Beyond these direct linkages, NATO has a long history of engagement in the region. As the Alliance’s Northern Flank, the Arctic was a vital supply replenishment route during wartime, and remains a direct sea line of communication and home to security infrastructure including NATO’s High North military presence. And, of course, NATO has begun to exercise on a more substantial scale in the region, illustrated by Exercise Trident Juncture in 2018, the largest such activity since the 1980s.

This review situates Russia’s overhaul of its Arctic strategic planning within the broader geopolitical environment of renewed Russia-US tensions and an increasingly crowded, contested and competitive Arctic agenda. It first sketches out the basis of Russian strategic thinking about the region and at the main actors involved in the planning process, and then the main themes in the document.

Key functions of Russian Arctic strategy

Contemporary Russian Arctic Strategy serves two purposes: to outline Russia’s national interests in the Russian Arctic Zone and to articulate the threats or challenges posed in the region to Russian national security. Various goals and principles can be charted throughout previous iterations of Arctic policy. In order to highlight the themes of continuity as well as change, it is helpful to take stock of developments in Russian Arctic Strategy.

Moscow’s first Arctic Strategy of the millennium was the 2000 Basics of the Russian Federation State Policy in the Arctic (Basics).6 The Basics was signed into law by Putin and served as the basis for Russia’s Arctic Zone military modernization program. Early on, Putin recognized and harnessed the economic potential of the Zone by earmarking it as the future resource base for the nation. Next came the 2008 “Foundation of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic to 2020 and Beyond” (“Foundations”), signed by then-President Medvedev. This set out further national interests including the role of the Arctic Zone as a strategic resource base to assist socio-economic development; the maintenance of the region as a peaceful sphere and commitments to environmental preservation. The Foundations also framed the Northern Sea Route (NSR) as a strategic interest in terms of its role as a critical sea line of communication and transport route for Russia.

Putin updated Russia’s strategic planning in the 2013 “Development Strategy of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation and National Security for the period until 2020”. This refreshed version added key priority areas to Moscow’s agenda and repositioned the NSR to better reflect its strategic value as an economic corridor (Blue Silk Road) for Russian Arctic LNG. Science and technology, as well as modernized information and telecommunication infrastructure interests were added to Russia’s Arctic agenda. The 2013 Development Strategy further illustrated the re-emergence of Putin’s military-security priorities in the Russian Arctic Zone with its inclusion of efforts to protect and defend the state border of Russia in the Arctic. Overall, it was this iteration which highlighted the military-strategic and national security vector of the Russian Arctic Zone.

Key actors

The strategic planning burden falls across several ministries, departments and individuals. If the Security Council oversees the wider process (one that includes defence), planning is coordinated, at least in theory, by the State Commission for Arctic Development. This structure may be what lies behind apparent delays in the production of some of the plans. Perhaps aligning priorities has taken more time than anticipated, or the central body for coordinating agendas is still rather ineffective. This would not be surprising: in late 2018 Deputy Prime Minister and Presidential Plenipotentiary to the Far East Yuri Trutnev took over the State Commission, and was tasked with relaunching it into a leaner, more agile body. The new commission brings together government ministers and regional leaders.

Indeed, since the last set of strategic planning, the organization of government structures responsible for the region have evolved. In early 2019, the government incorporated Arctic issues into the work of the Ministry for the Development of the Far East. Alexander Alexandrovich Kozlov thus became Minister for the Development of the Russian Far East and Arctic (MDFEA), and one of his Deputy Ministers, Alexander Viktorovich Krutikov, oversees a Department for Development of the Arctic, led by Yulia Nikolaevna Kosareva.

It is worth noting the comparative youth of those involved, and their backgrounds. Kozlov, who is 39, has been Minister since May 2018, was previously Mayor of Blagoveshchensk and Governor of Amur region from 2015 to 2018. Krutikov, 32, is a member of the Popular Front and Agency of Strategic Initiatives (ASI), with the connection to the latter leading to a position in the MDFEA in 2014. Kosareva, 37, is an economist by education, with experience in PricewaterhouseCoopers, the ASI, and in the Ministry of Economic Development, in which she worked on investment and public-private partnerships (2008-2011), and government in the North Caucasus (2013-2017). She joined the MDFEA in 2017 as the Director of the Department for Attracting Private Investment and took up her Arctic role in February 2020. Her department includes units for strategic planning (overseen by L.S. Mugdusyan), socio-economic development (overseen by A. I. Demidova) and state support for investment projects.

Trutnev and Kozlov are responsible for delivering the vision for the NSR to carry 80 million tons by 2024. Widely considered an unrealistic objective, Moscow has nonetheless placed the economic potential, and the role of the NSR in delivering this, at the heart of strategic planning to 2035. Rosatom, Russia’s state-owned and operated nuclear power firm, oversees the NSR development and infrastructure now that the NSR no longer sits within the Ministry of Transport remit.7 The NSR focus is further illustrated by the industrialization agenda overseen by Trutnev and Kozlov, which includes a series of reforms and laws incentivizing Arctic and Far East resource project investments. The new interest free and zero tax incentives for new energy, petrochemicals and plastics sector projects in the Russian Arctic and Far East: these incentives seek to stimulate projects which can add tonnage to the NSR.

New Strategy for a “new” Cold War?

Moscow’s 2020 overhaul of the planning reflects a high degree of continuity. National interests remain fixed upon ensuring sovereignty and territorial integrity first and foremost. Moscow’s interest in preserving the Arctic as a zone of peace and cooperation remains a feature. However, the new framing in terms of “stable mutually beneficial” partnerships is an interesting development for Russian Strategy. This suggests a slight deviation from a cooperative agenda to one in which partnerships and cooperative ventures are equally weighted – a potential warning to Beijing or other partners in the Russian Arctic Zone.

There is a pointed military-security agenda. Framed as defensive militarization, the Strategy states Russia’s military modernization program in the Russian Arctic serves to ensure Moscow can deter foreign military aggression in the region. Moscow’s new strategy intends to increase the combat capabilities of Russia’s armed forces in the Arctic Zone as well as to improvement integrated Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. A continued commitment to the modernization of Arctic military infrastructure and facilities is included.

The updated strategic planning reflects various other national interests. Using the Russian Arctic zone as a “strategic resource base” for social and economic development reoccurs in the documentation, as does the priority of maintaining the Arctic as a “zone of peace and cooperation”. The “preservation of the Arctic ecological system” and the promotion of the NSR as a global transportation route rounds out the Kremlin’s national interests.

Efforts to ensure “sovereignty and territorial integrity” for Russia in the Arctic replace the primacy of resource development which led Russian interests in previous Arctic policies. Whilst Russia’s indigenous Arctic population has featured as a component of previous iterations, the new planning documents raise the priority of the prosperity of the Russian Arctic population. It features guarantees of high living standards to flow from the ability of the state to develop successfully the Russian Arctic as a future strategic resource base.

The focus in strategic planning on the development and prosperity of the indigenous population reflects broader policy developments occurring for the Russian Far East and Arctic Zone. Calls for some 200,000 new jobs to be created by 2025 from Arctic energy projects are echoed in other Kremlin policies underway – in particular, the draft Strategy for the Development of the Russian Arctic Zone until 2035.8

Differentiating between threats and challenges

New to Russian Arctic Strategy is an assessment of security concerns – articulated by the “Assessment of national security in the Arctic” section of the State Policy. This provides useful insight into Kremlin threat perceptions in the Arctic. When it comes to the main national security threats – Russia views its declining population and inadequate development of social, transport and communication network of the Arctic zone as well as low rates of geological resource exploration as the three top concerns .9

Further components of Moscow’s threat perception include a lack of state support for business, missed deadlines for NSR infrastructure development and the slow manufacture rate of vehicles and aircraft for Arctic conditions. The main threats to national security in the Arctic include the lack of Russian technology for the development of the Arctic zone as well as Moscow’s inability to respond to environmental challenges. It is important to note that Russia’s threat perception in the State Policy consists entirely of domestic concerns.

That is not to say that Moscow sees no international ‘threat’ to its Arctic ambitions – Russia has simply framed these concerns as ‘challenges’ to overcome. The State Policy outlines attempts by foreign states to revise “basic provisions of international treaties” in the Arctic, as well as their efforts to create regulations without considering the legal treaties, as key challenges to Russian Arctic national security interests .10 Here, it would appear Moscow is pointing to US efforts to designate the NSR as an international waterway – affording the international community unopposed access. In the Arctic, basic geography means that Russia holds the largest territorial claim. Therefore, when it comes to the Arctic, agreed international law regimes (such as UNCLOS) are in Moscow’s favour to uphold.

A second challenge to Russian national security in the Arctic outlined by the State Policy is the unfinished international legal delimitation of marine spaces in the region. This refers to the overlapping North Pole claim Russia has with Canada and Denmark. Whilst negotiations between the three states are ongoing, this extended continental shelf claim is not one which we should expect Moscow to renounce.

The State Policy notes the “obstruction of the implementation by the Russian Federation of lawful economic” activities by foreign states and organizations is a further challenge to Russia’s national security. Another national security challenge for Moscow is the building up by foreign states of their “military presence in the Arctic”, increasing the potential for conflict in the region.11

Overall, the State Policy takes aim at external efforts to “discredit” Russian Arctic economic activity.Whilst recent Arctic Strategies, primarily the US Department of Defense’s, call out Russian Arctic activity – Moscow’s Strategy falls short of naming names. It underlines Moscow’s perceived shortfalls in the Arctic Zone and in doing so, illustrates that the focus of the document is largely upon overcoming Russia’s domestic challenges. Population decline, failures in transport and communication infrastructure are issues made explicit, as is the slow pace of new geological and resource exploration projects – crucial for delivering on the region’s economic promises.

Since the previous iteration of Russian strategic planning was unveiled in 2013, Russia’s relations with the Euro-Atlantic community have sharply deteriorated. Yet the Arctic remains a zone of cooperation for the Russia-West relationship – seemingly protected from the wider tensions. The same is not necessarily true for the Russia-NATO relationship when it comes to the Arctic. Whilst the Arctic often re-emerges on NATO's agenda, there is still clear hesitation from Brussels to craft a strategy. Support varies among members. And members once vocal in support for NATO's engagement might be wavering: Norway, for example, signalled its unease about potentially provoking Moscow by not taking part in the May 2020 US-UK anti-submarine warfare military exercise in the Barents Sea. The hurdle for NATO is that it is both a military alliance and a political one: an Arctic theatre focus would reflect NATO's military interests, but would also have an impact on the delicate political landscape regarding the Arctic's largest stakeholder – Russia.  Indeed, should NATO table an Arctic Strategy, Moscow would almost certainly oppose it as a means of expanding the reach of the institution.

Indeed, overall, the timing of the 2020 Strategy is interesting, not only because of the wider strategic overhaul taking place at a time of considerable flux in international affairs. Russia has launched this overhaul in the lead up to Moscow assuming the reigns of the Arctic Council Presidency in 2021. Whilst the State Policy singles out foreign military buildup in the Arctic as a national security threat, it must be noted that the Arctic Council (AC) is not mandated to discuss or deal with military-security concerns. In fact, it is expressly excluded from the AC, which was designed and intended to be a scientific platform to focus on issues of the environment. Therefore, Moscow’s focus on processes of militarization and securitization as Arctic challenges might flag its intent to try and broaden the mandate of the AC institution during its Presidency. With no viable institution currently able to serve as a forum for such issues, and given the fact most Arctic stakeholders view militarization as a security threat regarding their own national Arctic interests, reviewing the AC’s mandate might yet find consensus support.

Conclusions

Russia has framed its strategic planning for the Arctic in a way that echoes much of the previous national interest, ambitions and perceived challenges of previous iterations. A stark deviation in the 2020 Strategy is the framing of Moscow’s response to increased international attention and activity in the Arctic as well as pointed Arctic policies from the West. The concept of “discrediting Russian Arctic activities” is raised in the Strategy as a central challenge to Russia’s Arctic agenda. This warrants serious attention. Moscow places a premium on great power identity and the Arctic is set to represent a key component of this quest for Russia.

Moscow’s strategic planning outlines the contours of Russia’s enhanced military capacity to respond to breaches of its Arctic sovereignty and a clearly stated commitment to use this capability to defend its national interests. But developing this military capacity does not necessarily mean Russia’s Arctic neighbors should expect conflict: after all, the Russian Arctic zone is the future resource base for the Russian economy and conflict is bad for business.




1 (back) Lecturer of Strategic Studies at Deakin University, Australia, delivering the Australian War College’s Defence and Strategic Studies Course (DSSC). She is a Non-Resident Fellow of West Point’s Modern War Institute and was a PaG Visiting Maritime Fellow with the Research Division at the NATO Defence College in 2017. Views are the authors own and are not those of the Australian government, Australian Defence Force, US Military, the US Defense Department or the NATO Defence College.

2 (back) “Proekt novoi Strategii natsionalnoi bezopasnosti Rossii podgotovyat v 2020 gody”, Tass, 10 February 2020, https://tass.ru/politika/7726079">https://tass.ru/politika/7726079

3 (back) Ukaz 164, “Ob Osnovakh gosudarstvennoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii v Artkike na period do 2035 goda”, Website of the Presidential Administration, 5 March 2020, http://static.kremlin.ru/media/events/files/ru/f8ZpjhpAaQ0WB1zjywN04OgKiI1mAvaM.pdf

4 (back) “Nachalas podgotovka proekta Strategii razvitiya Arkticheskoi zony Rossiiskoi Federatsii i obsepechenia nationalnoi bezopasnosti na period do 2035 goda”, Website of the Security Council, 20 February 2020, http://www.scrf.gov.ru/news/allnews/2737/

5 (back) “Prezident Rossii utverdil Osnovy gosudarstvennoi politiki Rossiiskoi Federatsii v Arktike na period do 2035”, Website of the Security Council, 5 March 2020, http://www.scrf.gov.ru/news/allnews/2750/

6 (back) A detailed review of these documents can be found in this series: N. Mehdiyeva, “Russia’s Arctic Papers: the evolution of strategic t hinking in the High North”, Russian Studies, 4/18, 19 November 2018, http://www.ndc.nato.int/research/research.php?icode=567

7 (back) N. Mehdiyeva, “Development Strategy of State Corporation Rosatom to 2030”, Russian Studies Series, 3/19, March 2019, http://www.ndc.nato.int/research/research.php?icode=584

8 (back) “Draft strategy for the development of Russia’s Arctic through 2035 to be presented to VVP by Year End”, Portnews, 14 December 2019, https://en.portnews.ru/news/288635/

9 (back) “Ob Osnovakh”, Section 7a, b, c.

10 (back) “Ob Osnovakh”, Section 8a.

11 (back) “Ob Osnovakh”, Section 8.

12 (back) “Ob Osnovakh”, Section 8e.

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