Sunday, September 25, 2022

Putin’s Arctic gambit is to put fire at the US’ door

Image courtesy BBC

The United States is at its wits’ end to counter Russia. 

On its Navy Day yesterday, Vladimir Putin promised to revive the memory of Peter the Great and make Russia a great maritime power again.

Now you have read , from yours’ truly, how Russia is happily flapping its wings in Azov and Black Sea as a windfall from Ukraine which grants it access to Mediterranean Sea. Its plans on Caspian Sea, with Moscow and Mumbai at two ends of INSTC (International North South Transport Corridor), on the impressive pivot of Iran, and Russia is closer to breaking free from the constraints of its vast landmass. 

But great maritime power of the world? You might put it to the hyperbole of a great geopolitical character who slips out every time the United States adjusts its noose to fit the irritant. 

How is it even feasible with the United States, its sworn enemy, the greatest naval power humanity has ever witnessed, lords of Pacific and Atlantic Ocean, the lead character of Indo-Pacific drama which no other than Washington itself has scripted?

Well, we know Putin has always been the one to walk the talk: While signing the 55-page Naval Doctrine, the Russian leader has spelt out the missing jigsaw of his maritime ambition: Arctic. 

Now most keep their cherished goals close to their chest, lest the enemy is forewarned, but here we have this charismatic Russian who lays it out on the table and mocks his bitter enemy to come and try if he could upset the arrangement. 

Time again to cast a look at your world map, and see the vast stretch of Arctic region which seems to endow both Russia and the continental shelf of Americas with its ample length. 

But now the ice is melting in Arctic and to go with Russia’s big gains in ice-breakers—the United States comes nowhere near—the Bear is betting big to leap on what already is 10% of Russia’s GDP and 20 percent of its exports from that continental shelf. 

And if you haven’t heard of Yamal—a peninsula in northwest Siberia, Russia—and its operational LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) facility, its time to pay attention as India is already buying it and China has put its billions to acquire 3 million tonnes of it every year. 

So a melting Arctic and its immense store of energy, to go with Yamal LNG, and Russia’s Northern Fleet in tow, the Kremlin is now eyeing Northern Sea Route (NSR) year-around and not just what it presently manages for a few months in summer. 

The United States’ Coast Guards are no match to Russia’s military in this region and much as the Washington could summon Norway or Greenland for its cause (stationing its nuclear arsenal), Russia already is strutting with its S-400 and nuclear missiles with the promise of Zircon hypersonic cruise missiles which travels nine times the speed of the sound and has a range of 1,000kms. 

So the neocons in Washington would now be forced to look at homeland security than pursue its adventurism currently being played out in Ukraine and one it promises soon in Taiwan. 

The US’ immediate bet in near future is to entangle Russia on its sovereign claim over the North Sea Route as its territorial water which is said to fall foul of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Moscow could count on the support of Beijing though which itself is claiming its nine-dash line in the South China Sea. 

Arctic is not just a matter of Russia breaking free from the encirclement of NATO. For in the Baltics, its ships have to confront the sea powers of Nordic states in the Gulf of Finland and the Danish Straits. Besides, the Suez Canal route is not just more time and money consuming, its Black Sea Fleet also has to negotiate Dardanelles. 

Russia is in a hurry to expand its reach in East Asian markets. Arctic LNG at a low cost is a very attractive proposition. The Northern Sea Route also frees them from looking over the shoulder on US-controlled maritime routes. 

So the terms of engagements are changing. If the US is setting ones in Ukraine and Taiwan, they too would have to worry about the reach Arctic could afford to Russia and China. 

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