US ups presence in the Arctic by adding an ambassador

US counters Putin in the Arctic after NATO said the North Pole is the ‘shortest path’ for Russian missiles to North America: Washington appoints ambassador-large to oversee region where Moscow has 13 bases and has drawn China’s interest

  • Washington announced it was appointing an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic
  • The Friday announcement comes as Russia builds up its military presence
  • NATO highlighted the dangers this week, when its Secretary General visited 
  • ‘The shortest path to North America for Russian missiles or bombers would be over the North Pole,’ said Jens Stoltenberg
  • Climate change is opening seaways and bringing natural resources within reach

The U.S. announced on Friday it will step up its presence in the Arctic with a new ambassador amid warnings that Russia is militarizing the region with a slew of airbases and that China is trying to muscle in on its resources.

A day earlier, NATO spelled out the stakes. 

On a visit to the Canadian Arctic, the alliance’s secretary general highlighted Vladimir Putin’s moves in the region and pointed out that the shortest route for Russian Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles  aimed at North America lay directly over the North Pole.

The result is growing concern that the U.S. risks losing out to rivals in the icy north, and falling behind in a region that could become a superpower battleground. 

Against that backdrop, Washington said it was upgrading its diplomatic presence.  

‘The ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region will advance U.S. policy in the Arctic, engage with counterparts in Arctic and non-Arctic nations as well as Indigenous groups, and work closely with domestic stakeholders, including state, local, and tribal governments, businesses, academic institutions, non-profit organizations, other federal government agencies and Congress,’ said a spokesman.

Behind the diplospeak lies real concern that Russia and China are stealing a march, lining up strategic assets as water ways and territory open up with the advance of global warning. 

Russia and China have stepped up their presence in the Arctic zone, as global warming begins to open up sea ways and makes it possible to exploit natural resources

Russia’s submarine base at Gadzhivevo has been expanded to include new storage facilities for Poseidon nuclear drones and Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missiles, two of Moscow’s most cutting-edge weapons systems

Russian President Vladimir Putin outlined a new naval strategy at the end of last month, putting the Arctic at the heart of his vision. Russian expansion means the U.S. and NATO have stepped up diplomatic and military moves to head off rivals

An estimated $30 trillion in resources lie beneath the frozen earth.

Russia has built at least 13 military airbases in the Arctic, some of the them on Soviet-era sites.

At the same time, it has stepped up sorties by long range Mig-31BM Foxhound interceptors and Tu-22M3 bombers from these bases. And it has deployed long-range S-400 and medium range SA-17 air defence systems in recent years.

That has not gone unnoticed by NATO.

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Canada’s northern reaches this week to see for himself the nation’s defenses.

He visited North Warning System radar station in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut, which is due to be modernized as part of a multibillion-dollar refurbishment of NORAD, the North American air defence system. 

‘The shortest path to North America for Russian missiles or bombers would be over the North Pole,’ he said in an essay to mark the visit.

‘This makes NORAD’s role vital for North America and for NATO.’

A new airbase on Wragnel Island, near Alaska, is equipped with a sophisticated radar array with US analysts trying to work out exactly what it has been tasked with spying on

Kotelny Island military base has been equipped with launch pads for missile vehicles – either air defences or longer-range rockets as Russia relocates more of its nuclear forces further north

Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg traveled to Canada’s northern reaches this week to see for himself NATO’s Arctic defenses and highlighted the threat from Vladimir Putin’s expansion. He visited the region with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau

At the same time, he warned about Putin’s intentions in the region.

‘Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched a new naval strategy pledging to protect Arctic waters ‘by all means,’ including increased activity around the non-militarized Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard and hypersonic Zircon missile systems for its Northern Fleet,’ he said.

‘Just last week, Russia unveiled plans for a new strategic missile-carrying submarine cruiser for Arctic operations. Russia’s ability to disrupt Allied reinforcements across the North Atlantic is a strategic challenge to the Alliance.’ 

In a speech to mark the new strategy last month, Putin said: ‘We set the boundaries and areas of Russia’s national interests – economic, vital, and strategic – clearly and transparently. 

‘First and foremost, these are our waters of the Arctic, the Black Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, the Bering Sea, and the Baltic and Kuril Straits. We will ensure their protection rigorously and using all available tools.’

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