While Russian tanks roll through the streets of Georgia’s Gori, there is actually another front on Russia’s northern border of crucial geostrategic significance that has so far received little attention in Washington. President Bush is right to demand an immediate end to the looting and shooting in Georgia by Russia, but he should also turn his attention to recent aggressive Russian activity in the opening Arctic.
The stakes there are extraordinary; a just released accounting by the USGS estimates the Arctic contains 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves. New Arctic seaways will soon become inter-ocean shortcuts shaving thousands of miles off of longer routes through the Panama and Suez Canals. Similar to Georgia’s strategic location between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Arctic links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. A resurgent Russian bear is also stretching its claws on its northern frontier. The US would be wise to take notice.
Planting a flag at the North Pole seafloor last summer and claiming nearly half of the Arctic’s resources as its own, Russia was hardly subtle in exercising a new muscular foreign policy there. The flag planting antics were shortly followed by a renewal of strategic bomber flights up to North American airspace. Russian naval vessels were just dispatched to the disputed waters off of Norway’s Svalbard Islands. In addition to beefing up its military presence, Russia is investing on its northern coast and recently established the Murmansk Port Management Company to oversee $7 billion in port improvements.