Russia views Arctic as necessary to restoring its leadership role that it lost after the Cold War
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Medvedev’s decision to link the Arctic with Russia’s feeling of being wronged in the former Soviet space is especially intriguing, as Kremlin policymakers likely view both regions in similar terms. Russia’s preoccupation with peripheral buffer zones goes back centuries, with the post-Soviet struggle for influence in its self-proclaimed “near abroad” being the most recent manifestation. In 2006, Russian military commentator O. Litkova went so far as to argue that “the Arctic could significantly compensate Russia for the losses she suffered as a result of the collapse of the USSR.”44 The Arctic, like the near abroad, is viewed in terms of sectorial divisions in which Russia believes that history and geography afford it exclusive right of influence. In the case of the Arctic, this belief stretches back at least to the Soviet’s 1926 decree in which all territories within the extreme meridians of Russia’s eastern and western borders running to the North Pole were claimed as Russian.
Russia fears that the ice melt will do to the Arctic what the fall of communism did in Eastern Europe, that is, usher in a period of NATO encroachment into their traditional space. In 2011, two leading academic voices in Russia opined:
Officials and experts agree that NATO continues on a course toward enhancing its activity in the Arctic. What consequence will this have on Russia? In all aspects – negative…. With regard to the fierce competition for Arctic resources, NATO will squeeze Russia out, just as it squeezes Russia in other regions of Europe in the sphere of security. It is obvious that the USA, which is not party to [UNCLOS] will use NATO to strengthen its position in the region….Therefore, Russia should prepare for a difficult and long battle for the settling of its interest and legal rights.45
Russia has made no secret of their ambitious and aggressive plans for dominating the Arctic region and its resources. U.S. inattention to their advances could pose a long-term strategic threat to U.S. national security.