Russia

Arctic Conflict With Russia 'Not Likely In The Short-Term', Analyst Says

Russia's military might in the region is still not quite what it was during the Cold War, former Army officer Ben Barry believes.

A conflict with Russia in the Arctic is not likely in the near future, according to Ben Barry, a Senior Fellow for Land Warfare at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“In the short-term, I don’t think it’s likely,” Mr Barry told Forces News.

“It’s not nearly as much of a flashpoint with Russia as, say, Ukraine is.

"But as the Arctic grows in importance, you could see friction over resources, for example over maritime boundaries.”

Giving Norway as an example, he added that despite military tension, it is still possible to have good relations with Russia on certain issues.

“Now, despite Norway as a NATO member having broken off all military-to-military contact with Russia after 2014, the Norwegians tell us that they’ve still got good relations with Russia about managing the land border. And also demarcating fishing. So I don’t see that’ll be a special point of friction," he said.

"But you can never discard this and Norway does want reassurance.”

Russian troops parachuting 300119 CREDIT Russian MOD.jpg
Russian troops parachuting in the Arctic (Picture: Russian MOD).

The Arctic, he predicts, will become increasingly important to global commerce and Britain will need to remain engaged in the region because of her alliances with Scandinavian countries.

“Our NATO ally, Norway, feels slightly threatened by Russia because of its change of behaviour in 2014. Also, the Russians are reopening and reactivating and redeploying forces to their previous Arctic bases.

“Our military partners, Sweden and Finland, also feel threatened.

“In addition, the Arctic’s going to become increasingly important to Russia’s economy and to the global economy and therefore the UK economy.

“The reason for this is that the melting of the Arctic ice will make it much easier for tankers and freighters to travel across the high north across north Russia.”

The Arctic strategy currently carried out by Britain should continue, he adds.

It is important to Mr Barry, that the UK continues to build its links with Norway as well as with Sweden and Finland.

“This isn’t going to be a strategy where eye-catching massive announcements add value. Rather, incrementally growing an improved UK footprint in the Arctic based on what it already does and the good relationships it’s got with Norway, Sweden and Finland.”

Russian troops drive through the Arctic 300119 CREDIT Russian MOD.jpg
Russian troops drive through the snow (Picture: Russian MOD).

Part of that strategy is Royal Marine training in Norway – something that petered out after the end of the Cold War.

The Royal Marines carried out a high level of Arctic training every winter in the Cold War. However, the practice slipped away with the end of tensions, says Mr Barry.

“This [training] slipped away after the Cold War and, of course, from 2006 to 2012 the Royal Marines were heavily committed to Afghanistan.

“There has been an increase of British training in Norway but it’s not yet at the same level of the Cold War.”

The Norwegian Armed Forces, Mr Barry believes, would not be able to fight off an all-out attack by Russia, and so values such close military links.

“[The Norwegian Armed Forces] is small but it’s relatively high technology and it’s well-trained. It lives in the environment and knows the terrain as it did in the Cold War. It’s probably sufficient to deter Russia from a bolt on the blue, lightening pre-emptive attack."

However, as shown by Exercise Trident Juncture, to repel an all-out Russian attack, the Scandinavian country would need reinforcements from NATO.

“[Norway] found Exercise Trident Juncture extremely reassuring.”

Rocket launch in the Arctic 300119 CREDIT RUssian MOD.jpg
A Russian soldier practices firing a rocket (Picture: Russian MOD).

The warfare analyst believes that Russia’s military presence in the Arctic is still not quite what it was during the Cold War.

“After the end of the Cold War, they allowed their considerable military presence in the Arctic and many of their Arctic bases to fade away. They stopped investing in them.

“Now they’ve announced that they’re reinvesting but they haven’t reached the level of capability that they had in the Cold War. And they’ve still got a long way to go to rebuild that.

“In addition, the Russian Navy has had less investment than the Army, the Air Force and the nuclear forces. It’s probably the least ready and least capable part of Russian forces.

"Although their submarines worry Western navies quite a bit, their surface ships are in a relatively poor state since the Cold War.”