Arctic Circle — Earlier in October, British Royal Marines and Dutch Royal Marines were conducting combat training exercises in the Arctic. The exercises were part of a training regime intended to enhance relations between the two European nations, establish interoperability between the two Corps, and signal that the Arctic is still depoliticised. But they weren’t alone. The Russian military was also there. And it was looking for a fight.
According to General Jeff Mac Mootry, the Director of Operations of the Dutch Marine Corps, Russian fighter jets, ships, and submarines shadowed the NATO forces throughout the exercise.
“What we see is there is an increasing interest of Russian naval vessels when we exercise. We also see Russian fighters fly closer over our warships just to make their presence known, you could almost call it, in a provocative way,” said the Dutch General.
The Arctic is a highly contested piece of real estate. Its waterways (especially the Northwest passage and the Greenland-Iceland Gap, which the Russian Northern Fleet would have to cross to enter the Atlantic Ocean) and rumoured energy resources make it a plump geopolitical target. And the suitors are many: Norway, Denmark, Russia, Canada, the U.K., and the U.S. all have some sort of claim to the region.
The Norwegian Foreign Affairs Minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, voiced the current climate perfectly. In a recent interview, she said, “We are in a new landscape. Russia over time felt it had lost its great power status but is now talking about legitimate spheres of influence in a new way.”
The U.K. government recently announced a new Arctic defence strategy that would maintain security in the region and defend British and allied interests. British Secretary of Defence Gavin Williamson stated that the U.K. would send 800 Marines to Norway in 2019. Although the Royal Marines Commandos are frequently to be found sharpening their arctic warfare capabilities in the Scandinavian country, in their next deployment they will build a permanent base, with the Norwegian government’s acquiescence.
“We see Russian submarine activity very close to the level that it was at the Cold War, and it’s right that we start responding to that. If we could turn back the clock 10 years many people thought that the era of submarine activity in the High North, in the North Atlantic, and the threat that it posed did disappear with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This threat has really come back to the fore,” said Williamson.
Combined with the proven cyberwarfare operations against democratic institutions in numerous Western countries, the Kremlin is signalling that it won’t shy from a Cold War 3.0. But would the Russian economy be able to pay the bill?