Jockeying for position in the Arctic, affairs remain cool … for now

Russia’s territory claim in the north ruffled Danish feathers – and not for the first time this year


As the ice melts in the Arctic, the potential for conflict among the main players is increasing.

Russia recently submitted a claim for additional territories in the Arctic, overlapping one made by Denmark and Greenland last year, while claims from Norway, Canada and the US are forthcoming.

The exact borders between the countries’ sovereign zones are far from defined. The Lomonosov Ridge, for example, traverses the Arctic Ocean and Denmark, Russia and Canada all have possible claims to it.

Claiming to gain
“The claim determining the outer borders of the continental shelf in the Arctic Ocean is based on the scientific understanding that the central Arctic underwater ridges have a continental character,” read the official statement from the Russians.

Denmark and Greenland laid claim to the area last December.

“The submission of our claim to the continental shelf north of Greenland is a historic and important milestone for the Kingdom of Denmark,” Martin Lidegaard, the foreign minister, said at the time.

Manoeuvres in the dark
Even before the recent land jockeying, Russia’s Arctic neighbours had questions about its intentions in the north.

The Russian Navy has engaged in exercises involving a fleet of ships saileding to the New Siberian Islands and leaving behind everything needed to reopen a military airport shut down in the 1990s.

Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, has told reporters that a military presence in the Arctic region is among the top priorities for his nation.

Shortcuts, deep wells
One of the biggest issues facing countries with Arctic interests is control of the seaways opening up in the region.

But despite all the talk about the Arctic shortcut, no-one has yet sent any cargo through the northern routes.

And then there is the small matter of the estimated 44 billion barrels of oil under the melting glaciers of the Arctic Ocean.

A visible threat
The confrontation between Denmark and Russia hasn’t been limited to tussles on paper.

An increased Russian presence in the Baltic region led to the Danish and Swedish defence ministries announcing the two countries will engage in closer military co-operation.

And when a Danish passenger plane nearly collided with a Russian spy plane close to Malmö in December 2014, the Danish defence minister at the time, Nicolai Wammen, said he would be meeting with his Swedish colleagues about the incident.

“I expect we will meet before long to discuss how we can best equip not just Denmark and Sweden, but also the Baltic countries, in relation to how we look after passenger traffic,” said Wammen.

Reassessing, rearming
Denmark’s establishment of a specialised military command to police the country’s vast Arctic territories in 2012 underlined its intent to develop a heightened defence and security strategy in the increasingly significant region.

According to Simeon Wezeman of the Stockholm International Peace Research Centre, the military build-up in the region is so far just gamesmanship.

“Right now all of the claimants are interested in strengthening their military presence through mainly patrol ships and patrol forces,” he told RT News.

Nukes aimed at NATO
Russia rattled sabres in Denmark’s direction in March when Mikhail Vanin, the Russian ambassador to Denmark, said Danish warships could end up as targets for Russian nuclear missiles if Denmark joins the NATO missile defence shield.

“I do not think that the Danes fully understand the consequences if Denmark joins the US-led missile defence shield,” Vanin told Jyllands-Posten.

“If that happens, Danish warships become targets for Russian nuclear missiles.”
Lidegaard was not pleased with Vanin’s comments.

“This is obviously unacceptable,” Lidegaard said. “Russia knows very well that NATO’s missile defence system is defensive.”

Canada wants to play
Canada has also announced plans to increase its military presence in the Arctic.

The Canadian government says its plans are to use satellites as part of a maritime surveillance program that will monitor shipping and resource development in the Arctic.

With Russia and northern European states becoming more aggressive about establishing their claims in the region, Canada is also keen to assert its sovereignty.