Russia's aggressive Arctic rhetoric is for domestic political consumption, they are more likely to pursue demilitarization agreements
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It should be noted that while it is true that Putin’s assumption of power did usher in a more assertive tone in Russian foreign policy, it is also the case that his tough talk of Russian power and sovereignty may be largely for domestic political benefit. The new “sovereigntization” of Putin’s language or foreign policy rhetoric has been useful for him as a way to coalesce popular opinion around the current power structure (Giusti 2013, p. 2). Pavel Baev confirms that sentiments about Russia “conquering the north” resonate with the Russian public (Baev 2010, p. 7). But, despite the tough rhetoric about Arctic military patrols and the protection of Arctic sovereignty, Baev (2010, p. 7) argues that Russia’s maritime military capabilities in the North have actually diminished in recent years and so the cost of militarization in the Arctic would be prohibitively high. For this reason, Baev suggests that Russia – somewhat involuntarily – may be more likely to opt for strategies that favor the demilitarization of the region. Even though Russian naval power is stronger than that of most of its neighbors in the region, it is costly to maintain.
Baev (2010) further argues that part of Russia’s interest in “going North” may be explained by a desire to consolidate a national identity that has been somewhat rudderless since the end of the Cold War. The connection between national identity and the decisions leaders take is often difficult to measure, but when it comes to disputed national territory – sovereignty – the link becomes more visible, perhaps because sovereignty disputes may be perceived to have more at stake, given the connection between the idea of the nation and the land on which it sits (Manicom 2013, pp. 62–63) Deciphering the connection between national identity and high- level foreign policy decisions is even more challenging in Russia, as many of the country’s key security debates do not take place in the public domain (Atland 2011, pp. 273–277). Those debates that do become public are often of a symbolic nature (Atland 2011). Flexing Russian sovereignty in the Arctic feeds an appetite for the reaffirmation of post-Soviet Russian power. Putin, as president, embodies this power (Roberts 2013, pp. 137–138), and he has managed to transform the Arctic into a “flagship for nationhood” (Laruelle 2011). Putin’s symbolic projec- tions of Russian power have elevated his status as a strong and decisive leader, which he has been able to benefit from politically.