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mardi 28 octobre 2014

Blog - Russian submarines in the Arctic - the saga continues (eng)

Russian submarines in the Arctic - the saga continues

Hold the front page, it's no longer submarines in Sweden, but this time a case involving a mystery sub in the Arctic. The topic of Russia and its military 'creeping around' is growing legs. When will this media 'non-news' about subs and Russia get kicked into touch? Here is the title of the Daily Telegraph article by Ali Kefford in question: "Mystery submarine sighting gives clue to Russia's Arctic ambitions".

The article starts with "A chance encounter by scientists adrift on an Arctic ice floe has given the first clues to a new Cold War being played out in in the far north, where Vladimir Putin has made no secret of his ambitions to extend Russian influence."

The article relates the story of Norwegian scientists who spotted an unknown submarine on the 16th of October.  The article states that it a submarine that is an "aging nuclear research vessel".  The writer considers the research vessel as "part of President Putin's plan to send 6000 troops to an area rich in oil and gas".

Submarines Arctic patrols

Interesting turn of words from the writer, "chance encounter", as if it is rare as hens' teeth to see surfacing subs in the Arctic. However, if as the article suggests, it is the "Orenburg", then, it was indeed a" chance encounter", since the Russian sub carries out sensitive missions for the Russian Ministry of Defense's Main Directorate for Deep-Sea Research (GUGI).   Even so, the reality is that it isn't that rare for submarines to turn up in the Arctic; especially US ones and other NATO subs. In fact, just by trawling through the internet, several videos are online, featuring submarines breaking through the ice" in the polar region on exercise:

The article continues by giving the long & lat, (89° 17.5' N, 172° 42.9' W) of the location as well stating that "She has been potentially identified as the Delta class boat Orenburg." 

Maybe the Russians just wanted to have a swim alongside their sub or is it the Russian version of the ice bucket challenge, the sea being the bucket!!!:  The sub in the video is also a Detla class. Another video showing a russian sub in the Arctic:

Ali Kefford finishes his article off by picking up again on his unnamed senior naval source; (once more a case of citing anonymous sources): "There is almost certainly a US submarine there now," said the source. "And if there isn't one there permanently below the Arctic ice cap, the High North will be on a periodic patrol cycle. The point being made by the unnamed senior naval source is the fact that submarines do in fact patrol and go on exercises in the Arctic, including the US.

Sadly it seems to be journalistic de rigeur now not to bother finding named sources of information or to do some meaningful or measured research on Russia & its interests in the Arctic; scaremongering the readers by using Cold War rhetoric is much easier these days. The journalist did not even provide any information whatsoever over the reasons as to why Russia is keenly involved in the Arctic.

 Russia & the Arctic

Let me step in where the Daily Telegraph left off.  Basically, there are two aspects to the Russian involvement in the Arctic.  A huge chunk of the Arctic region is in fact within Russia's maritime borders. Ali Kefford in his article has skipped over this fact by simply omitting to state where the 6000 troops are being sent. Some of these troops have already set foot on Kotelny Island, located in the Novosibirsk Archipelago, one of the first military bases being set up in the Arctic.

The international legal framework that sets maritime borders is called the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). UNCLOS outlines a country's Exclusive Economic Zone, (EEZ),  that can be up to 200 nm from the coast. The Coastal State, in this case, Russia, has the right to exploit natural resources lying in the seabed, under the provisions of Article 56(1)(a). This dry piece of information might not seem of interest to an average hack, yet, is a piece of the puzzle, that was completely missed out,  when referring to as "Putin's plan to send 6000 troops to an area rich in oil and gas".

Sea continental shelf research

What Ali Kefford is also  possibly alluding to is the ongoing scramble to claim Arctic territory, beyond current maritime borders, by the US, Canada, Denmark, Russia and Norway. It is said that that the Arctic accounts for 25% of the world's undiscovered oil & gas resources, as well as other mineral resources such as copper. Potential ownership of such resources boils down to outright legal ownership of various areas of the Arctic shelf boundaries.  Here is the devil in the detail, since UNCLOS also deals with the issue of a continental shelf, as a country can in very limited circumstances, extend its right as a State to exploit it beyond the 200 nm EEZ. The Siberian Shelf, which just happens to be the largest continental shelf on Earth, is a likely hotspot for serious oil & gas exploration. It extends out to 1500 kilometers (930 miles) offshore.

Russia has had its eye on extending its national shelf for decades & to this end they have been busily researching the area. The Russians have lately centered their geological research on the Mendeleyev Ridge. The research vessel "Orenburg" also took part in Arktika-2012, an  expedition along the Mendeleyev Ridge. However, any final decision on ownership will be made by the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf, (CLCS). How dull that Russia is in fact submitting their claims for territorial claims in line with the well-established remit of UNCLOS.  Russia had its first bid rejected by the CLCS back in 2001 and got told to go and do some research.  It is no secret that Canada along with Denmark have equally researched and prepared their bids for territorial claims in the region.

 Economic resources and ownership

The Daily Telegraph article completely misses the point about Russia, (literally personified by Vladimir Putin), and the connection between its existing de facto territorial jurisdiction with its extensive energy resources.  Given both the size of the Siberian Shelf, as well a very long Arctic coastline, it is clear that Russia wants to have a wide security presence in the region.  

Additionally, Russia has drawn up plans in developing further the Northern Sea shipping route as a commercial sea transport corridor. When ice-free, shipping using the route can cut 7000km off of a journey between Rotterdam & Tokyo, compared with using the Suez Canal.  Consequently, Russia sees the need for enhanced oversight over this strategic sea route. Yet as it stands, there are few reliable installations along the coast that could provide the necessary security and also vital Search & Rescue (SAR) infrastructure.

The military dimension

Given that Russia has already important oil & gas assets in the Arctic already sitting within its EEZ, it would be daft not to provide security for them, particularly in the Yamal, Nenets and Kara Sea regions, all located in the Russian EEZ. Yet this is precisely President Putin has set out to do and is continuing to do so.  Russia has been increasing its military presence in the Arctic for a few years, so nothing really newsworthy about deploying 6000 troops to an "area rich in oil and gas". Did the Telegraph journalist actually research the area in question? He only obliquely hinted at it.  Seriously, it is really a non-issue since all of the Russians troops will be actually on Russian land. Back in 2011, the creation of a special Arctic Forces brigade both in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk was proposed by Moscow, however this was put on hold.  The Arctic has been home to Russian submarines for a while - it is called the Northern Fleet and routinely deploys them in the Arctic.

 Currently, Russia is in the process of reopening a number of Soviet era bases in the Arctic such as Kotelny Island and Tiski on the mainland.  As the Russians are strengthening their military presence in their territorial part of the Arctic, so have Canada & the US ramped up its presence as well. Similarly to the Russians, the US produced in February 2014 a strategy roadmap document covering the Arctic. The US Navy principally deploys submarines in the region, as part of its own power projection. Equally NATO can be seen to be muscling on the Arctic region, through its 2014 Norwegian-led Cold Response exercise. "Our ambition is a clear NATO footprint in the north," said State Secretary Roger Ingebrigtsen for the Norwegian Defense Ministry. So the regional power games are about having a physical presence or footprint.

Russia is a significant and key player in Arctic cooperation, and the ongoing reverberations in response to events in Ukraine are being echoed in the Arctic as well, which might deepen the impact on the Russian Arctic footprint. Russia has a dominant role in security & maritime matters in the region, especially within its own maritime borders. Yet pitifully the Daily Telegraph showed a lack of maturity & common sense by refusing to even acknowledge this.


"Mystery submarine sighting gives clue to Russia's Arctic ambitions", 28 Oct 2014, accessed 28 October 2014,

Who Owns the Arctic? A Stocktaking of Territorial Disputes, The Global Journal, December 21, 2011, accessed 28 Oct 2014,

"Russia's Claim in the Arctic and the Vexing Issue of Ridges in UNCLOS," by Mark Benitah, in the American Society of International Law (Nov. 2007).

 "Interview with French expert in geopolitics A. Latsa: "The Arctic has never been so important" Route Magazine, 25/03/2013, accessed 28 oct, 2014,

"The United States Navy Arctic Roadmap for 2014 to 2030".

"Russia says no need for NATO in Arctic, expands own military presence", The Barents Observer, 22/10/2014, accessed 28 Oct 2014,

Sneak peak at Russia's 'under renovation' Arctic base, RT, 18 September 2014, accessed 28 Oct 2014,

"Arctic Resources: The fight for the coldest place on Earth heats up," RT, April 15, 2014, accessed 28 Oct, 2014,


(Cartoon (c) Kevin KAL Kallaugher, The Economist)

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