A rise in both Russian and Chinese military presence in the Arctic, as well as the effects of climate change, have increased the importance of the region to NATO, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told the Atlantic Council on Monday.
“The Arctic region has always been important for NATO. We have five NATO allies which are Arctic nations, and NATO’s always been in the Arctic. But the melting of the ice combined with increased Russian military presence – they’re reopening some old bases from the Cold War – and increased Chinese interest and presence of course just increases the importance of the Arctic,” Stoltenberg said.
Stoltenberg added that potential new sea routes between Europe and Asia, caused by melted ice in the region, also matters to the security of NATO, and as such, countries in the area are investing in submarines and other military tech needed to maintain an Arctic presence.
Russia recently took over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council for the 2021-2023 term. Their stated priorities in the region include developing its environmental, economic, and social sustainability and enhancing cooperation and coordination with regional structures.
In addition, Russia is in talks with international partners, including China, to construct the Snowflake International Arctic Station, an international research facility that runs on renewable energy. The facility is meant to act as a platform for scientists and other researchers to work on problems related to the Arctic region.
The Russian Ministry of Justice in 2019 designated the Atlantic Council think tank as an undesirable non-profit institution on the territory of Russia, whose activity poses a threat to the country’s constitutional order and security.
Meanwhile, the Russian Northern Fleet announced on Monday the beginning of a large-scale exercise in the Barents Sea with more than 20 ships and submarines.
“The military personnel of coastal units, more than 20 warships and submarines, about 10 aircraft and helicopters will be involved at various stages of the exercise, which will take place for several days,” the fleet said in a statement.
During the exercise, combat groups are expected to practice joint actions, interaction with air forces, guarding and defending a detachment of warships from simulated enemy submarines and various means of air destruction, as well as countering enemy ships.
The main and final stage of the exercise will include live fire, the statement added.