While the rest of the world debates about the cause of climate change, Russian President Vladimir Putin has taken a public stance that, regardless of reason, Russia intends to take advantage of waterways opening up to navigation as polar ice melts.

As a result of Russia’s endeavor to militarize the arctic, the U.S. Coast Guard has recently begun requesting additional resources to bolster America’s presence in the thawing north. Currently, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains an ice breaker fleet of three vessels, only two of which are operational. These ships split duty between operations at the planet’s north and south poles. The Polar Star, which is primarily assigned the task of maintaining shipping lanes in both the Arctic and Antarctic, was built in the 1970s, and is rapidly approaching the end of its projected service life.

Russia, on the other hand, already has roughly 40 operational ice breakers in its northern fleet, and they intend to add more. Russia’s massive arctic presence when compared to America’s dismal showing has serious and far-reaching implications in regards to national security: America’s GMD missile defense infrastructure is designed primarily to intercept missiles coming from the East or West, rather than directly from one of the earth’s poles, and of course, also because of the immense natural resources lying in wait beneath the sea ice.

Unlike the American ice breaking presence, which employs one of the two operational ships for scientific purposes only, Russia’s fleet of arctic ships are increasingly military vessels that just happen to possess ice breaker capabilities — an issue of increasing concern to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, who likened Russia’s expansion into the Arctic to similar aggressive tactics employed by China in the South China Sea.

Now when you start looking at the Russia navy, or if you start looking at why is Russia launching icebreaking corvettes — these are really warships that can also break ice at the same time, that can operate in the high latitudes, at a point in time where Russia is claiming a good portion of the Arctic Ocean … to say that, ‘this is ours,'” Zukunft told reporters in December.

“This looks eerily familiar to what China is doing the East and South China Sea, what we could call access denial to all others … that you pay homage to Russia,” Zukunft said.

According to Zukunft, who explained that the Coast Guard maintains open lines of communication with Russian officials in the Arctic in order to prevent fish poaching across international boarders and the like, Russia has played their shift toward Arctic militarization close to the chest. However, whatever is it that they’re planning, they’re well prepared.

Russia has not been transparent in what their intent is, and so we’re playing a strategic game of chess up in the Arctic,” Zukunft said. “And Russia’s got … all the pieces on the chessboard. I’ve only got a couple of pawns. I don’t even have a queen, let alone a king. Might have a rook.”