Three Russian submarines, seemingly equipped to carry 16 ballistic missiles with multiple nuclear warheads, simultaneously broke through the ice near the North Pole in March 2021.
The boats were soon joined by two MiG-31 aircraft and ground troops participating in Umka-2021, a Russian Arctic military exercise that signaled a new and dangerous era for the polar region and the world. But Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization provides an opportunity to contain the Kremlin’s strategy for domination of the Arctic and North Pole.
Thanks to climate change, the Arctic has increasingly become a navigable sea route. The maximum ice coverage hit the lowest level on record, 5.57 million square miles, in 2017. One model suggests the Arctic Ocean could be largely free of ice in summer by 2035, although some experts say the mid-2040s is more realistic.
This means that nations bordering the Arctic, including the U.S. and Russia, will have an enormous stake in who has access to and control of the resources of this energy- and mineral-rich region as well as the new sea routes for global commerce the melt-off is creating.
Forty-three of the nearly 60 large oil and natural-gas fields that have been discovered in the Arctic are in Russia, according to a 2009 American Energy Department report. Eleven are in Canada, six in Alaska and one in Norway.