Monday, September 7, 2015

Cold Polarization

On August 2, 2007, A Russian MIR deep submersible dropped to 4,261 meters (almost 14K feet) below the Polar ice cap and planted a 39 inch platinum Russian flag (and a time capsule with a message from Vladimir Putin) directly on the North Pole (pictured above). Claiming that outcroppings from the Russian mainland extended undersea veins of land towards the pole and all along the polar region, Russia had claimed that entire region as Russian territory back in 2001. Russia also claimed the passageway that we call the Northwest Passage in the West, a block of ice that has slowly turned into an occasionally-navigable body of water. A United Nations arbitration failed to support those claims for lack of sufficient substantiating evidence.
Russia, which also claims that the Tsars lacked the right to sell Alaska to the United States (the 1867 “Seward’s Folly”), has hardly given up in claiming massive rights within the polar region, a seabed rich in fish, minerals and oil. On August 4th, the Russians once again asserted territorial exclusivity to 1.2 million square kilometers (463,000 square miles) of the Arctic sea shelf. The other nations bordering the Arctic – Canada, the United States, Norway and Denmark/Greenland – quickly rejected what they believed to be a preposterous Russian grab at precious resources in one of the world’s most delicately-balanced ecological environments. Environmentalists screamed almost as loudly as did the non-Russian Arctic nations.
Citing new scientific data, Russia claimed that her assertion was now fully sustainable and irrefutable. Global warming has contracted the polar ice caps and opened upon once-inaccessible lands to exploration, exploitation and use as part of new, expected long-range commercial ocean passages. The formal demand was presented by Russia to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf for review.
But Russia was hardly just counting on the good graces of the United Nations to vindicate its claims. Two years ago, Russia began building a new, massive, nuclear powered ice breaker on a scale that the world had never seen before: “Russia has started building the world’s largest universal nuclear-powered icebreaker capable of navigating in the Arctic and in the shallow waters of Siberian rivers. The unique vessel will further increase Russia’s dominance in the region.
“The 173m ship is being built by the Baltiysky Zavod shipyard in St Petersburg, and is planned to be completed by 2017. Once finished the ship will be 14 meters longer and 4 meters wider than the current record holder, ‘50 year Victory’ that is 159 meters [521 feet] long and 30 meters [98 feet] wide.”, November 6, 2013. It is a huge ship, a record-size for 2013, but more and bigger craft are being added rapidly to the Russian ice breaking fleet all the time.
“The higher the ambitions in the Arctic, the more icebreakers under construction. That appears to be the case, at least, for Russia. The country currently has at least 14 icebreakers under construction and several more under planning… In addition, several other kinds of icebreaking vessels are under construction, among them special LNG tankers.
“The construction of the new vessels is all concentrated on yards located in and around St Petersburg. While the Baltiisky Yard is constructing the new generation nuclear-powered icebreakers, the Admiralty Yard and the Vyborg Yard produce diesel-engined vessels. Also the Yantar Yard in Kaliningrad has been involved in construction processes. In addition, the Russian-owned Arctech Yard in neighboring Finland is delivering icebreaking vessels for Russian stakeholders [vessels that can break ice sideways as well].
“The biggest and most powerful of all the new vessels is under construction at the Baltiisky Yard. The nuclear-powered LK-60 icebreaker (project 22220) will be the world’s most powerful icebreaking vessel -- 568 feet long, 111.5 feet wide and able to sail in ice nearly 10 feet thick. It will be part of the state-owned Rosatomflot fleet of nuclear icebreakers based in Murmansk. Russia intends to build at least two of this class vessel, the first to be ready by the end of 2019, the other by the end of 2020.” Alaskan Dispatch New, May 11th.
No other nation or group of nations can mirror the expected ice-breaking capacity of this new Russian fleet. And no regional powers, including the United States, have remotely the same sea-going capacity to police and control the polar region as do the Russians. And it’s not just this new fleet that has set Russia’s saber-rattling over the Arctic. “The new move comes a week after the Kremlin said it was strengthening its naval forces in the Arctic as part of a new military doctrine… Earlier this year, Russia's military conducted exercises in the Arctic that involved 38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircraft.”, August 4th.
In recent years, Russia has moved on Georgia’s rebel state (South Ossetia), Crimea, Ukraine, the Arctic and even someday… we can expect against Alaska. Russia is increasingly a rogue state, a global pariah that loves to make friends with extremists (North Korea, Syria, Iran, etc.) and seems to be the living paradigm of “might makes right.” As the world is distracted with Islamic turmoil and genocide, disarmament focused on Iran and wars all across Saharan and even Sub-Saharan Africa as well as the Middle East, a dark sinister force is skulking in the Arctic, believing that sooner or later, one way or the other, the Arctic will simply be one more part of the Russian motherland. Are we ready? Willing? And able to resist this land grab?

I’m Peter Dekom, and with a gridlocked and highly polarized government, with Americans tearing at each other’s throats, Russia has to be cackling at what it perceives to be its inevitable control of the entire Arctic region.

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