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DOD Closely Monitoring Russian Activities in Arctic

April 5, 2021 | BY C. Todd Lopez , DOD News

Russian military activities and infrastructure build-ups in the Arctic are not going unnoticed, the Pentagon press secretary said.

"Without getting into specific intelligence assessments, obviously we're monitoring it very closely," said John F. Kirby during a briefing today at the Pentagon.

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As ice melts in the Arctic, new options for transiting the Arctic open up — and also remove natural barriers that Russia once relied on to protect its own interests there. Now, it is seeking to bolster its security through the refurbishing of Soviet-era airfields, the expansion of its network of air and coastal defense missile systems and the strengthening of its anti-access and area-denial capabilities.

But the U.S. has its own interests in the Arctic as well, Kirby said.

"[We] obviously recognize that the region is key terrain that's vital to our own homeland defense and as a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the homeland — which would make it vulnerable to expanded competition," Kirby said. "We're committed to protecting our U.S. national security interests in the Arctic by upholding a rules-based order in the region, particularly through our network of Arctic allies and partners who share the same deep mutual interests that we do."

A submarine is surfaced near a large sheet of ice. Snow is piled up on top of the submarine.
USS Hartford
The submarine USS Hartford surfaces near Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 19, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Tyler Thompson
VIRIN: 160319-N-QA919-540
A tiny military camp is surrounded by a vast expanse of snow.
Camp Sargo
Camp Sargo housed participants of Ice Exercise 2016, a five-week exercise designed to research, test and evaluate operational capabilities in the Arctic Circle.
Photo By: Adam Bell, Navy
VIRIN: 160324-N-ZZ999-108

In the 2019 DOD Arctic Strategy, the Defense Department told Congress it has three objectives in the Arctic. Those objectives include defending the homeland, ensuring common areas remain free and open, and competing when needed to maintain a favorable regional balance of power.

"The Arctic is a potential corridor — between the Indo-Pacific and Europe and the U.S. homeland — for  expanded strategic competitions," the report reads.  "Strategic competitors may undertake malign or coercive activities in the Arctic in order to advance their goals for these regions. The DOD must be prepared to protect U.S. national security interests by taking appropriate actions in the Arctic as part of maintaining favorable balances of power in the Indo-Pacific and Europe."

Eerie green lights streak across a dark sky.
Northern Lights
The Northern Lights can be seen above Ice Camp Sargo during Ice Exercise 2016 in the Arctic Circle, March 11, 2016.
Photo By: Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Zachary Yanez
VIRIN: 160311-N-SG283-002

Kirby said the U.S. military is well aware of Russian activities in the Arctic, and reiterated that the U.S. has its own interests it will defend as well.

"Obviously we're watching this, and as I said before, we have national security interests there that we know ... we need to protect and defend," he said. "And as I said, nobody's interested in seeing the Arctic become militarized."