Scandinavian States Work Alongside the U.S. to Contain Russia in the Arctic
Wednesday, June 9, 2021
Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst
The Arctic Challenge Exercise (ACE) is being hosted from Finland’s Rovaniemi Airport (whose runway crosses the Arctic Circle), Norway’s Bodo base, and Sweden’s Luleå base (located south of the Arctic Circle). ACE aims to improve interoperability between the three Scandinavian countries and the U.S. Air Force over the Arctic region. Although Sweden and Finland are not NATO members, ACE is one of the largest tactical air exercises in Europe and is held every two years, demonstrating that the U.S. is improving and strengthening its relations with all Arctic countries – with the exception of Russia.
The Russian Embassy in the U.S. tweeted that the “Arctic Challenge with participation of the United States Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa are provocative. These maneuvers do not establish any framework for mutual trust in Europe and contradict [the] peaceful and sustainable development of [the] Arctic Region.”
However, what the Russian Embassy fails to explain is exactly how these exercises are “provocative” and contradict a peaceful Arctic Region. The U.S. Marine Corps detachment, consisting of 250 marines, includes ten F/A-18 Hornet multirole combat jets, from the 115th Marine Fighter Strike Squadron, and 1-2 KC-130 tankers and transport aircraft of the Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 452. It must be remembered that Norway and Finland directly border Russia, and in fact, Rovaniemi Airport is one of the closest foreign air force bases to Murmansk, considered Russia’s gateway to the Arctic. With the U.S. military training across northern Finland, there is little doubt that the exercises are preparing for a hypothetical Arctic war with Russia.
ACE began on Monday and will end on June 18. It is the fifth of its kind since being established in 2013. Russia is not being idle either, and it was announced on Monday that Northern Fleet forces will participate in exercises involving more than 20 warships and submarines, and about 10 aircraft and helicopters. These exercises are to prepare Russia for any attacks emanating from the Arctic region.
“At various stages of the exercise, homogeneous and heterogeneous tactical groups will work out joint actions, interact with the air force, solve tasks for the protection and defense of a detachment of warships from imaginary enemy submarines and various air weapons, and counteract the enemy’s naval groupings,” the press service of the Northern Fleet announced.
As the Arctic is rich in hydrocarbons and has large stores of fresh water, the U.S. is attempting to isolate Russia from having greater access to the region despite the Eurasian country having 53% of the entire Arctic Ocean’s coastline. In addition, the amount of ice in the Arctic is declining every year, thus opening up new prospects for economic opportunities through emerging shipping lanes.
Russia’s vast Arctic coastline also exposes the country to immense danger. It is for this reason that Moscow published a 15-year-plan for the Arctic, titled: “On the Basics of State Policy of the Russian Federation in the Arctic for the Period Until 2035.” The plan identifies challenges to Russia’s national security and argues the necessity of why up to 40 Arctic vessels, new railways and seaports, and an upgrade of regional airports by 2035 is needed.
Murmansk plays a prominent role in Russia’s Arctic development plan as it is the largest city north of the Arctic Circle (just under 300,00 people) and one of the most important ports in the Arctic region. The city is located in what is considered European Russia, and as already mentioned, not far off from Rovaniemi Airport in Finland’s Lapland region. Murmansk is located in the Kola Peninsula, geographically a part of the Scandinavian landmass, even if it is not culturally a part of that sphere.
It is for this reason that Rovaniemi is being targeted by the U.S. to become a keystone infrastructure to pressure Russia in its European Arctic region. Sweden’s Luleå base is also less than 800 kilometers away from Murmansk, which is not considered a far distance in the Arctic.
The U.S. alone cannot contain Russia in the Arctic and is thus prioritizing its relations with Canada and the Scandinavian States (including Denmark which has sovereignty over Greenland). Although the presence of U.S. military personnel in Scandinavia will certainly antagonize Russia, it will do little to deter the country from achieving its 15-year-plan regarding the Arctic, nor stop Russia from exploiting new trade routes that are emerging from the melting ice.
Despite being non-NATO members, Finland and Sweden are effectively acting as if they are member states, something that will not only affect the geopolitical situation in the Arctic (keeping in mind Sweden and Finland do not even have Arctic coastlines), but also in the Baltic Sea where a Cold Peace exists between Russia and the other states.
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