As Kremlin Pushes into Arctic, Russians Desert En Masse

Russia is closely watching the process of militarization in the Arctic and will respond accordingly.

General Nikolaj Makarov. Copyright AP.
General Nikolaj Makarov. Copyright AP.

At an international arms conference in Abu Dhabi, General Nikolai Makarov, the head of Russia’s General staff, stated, “Overall, we are looking at how far the region will be militarized. Depending on that, we’ll then decide what to do.”

Policymakers have focused more attention on the Arctic and its possible militarization since January, when NATO General Secretary Jaap de Hoop Scheffer discussed the prospects for increasing NATO’s involvement in the region in a speech at a summit in Reykjavik.

However, Norwegian Foreign Minister Espen Barth Eide did not seem disturbed by the general’s remarks. In an interview with Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten (in Norwegian), he said, “I don’t want to interpret it as dramatic at all. I have heard worse, to tell you the truth. I won’t be losing any sleep over this.”

Instead, Barth Eide put a positive spin on Russia’s stance by saying that it symbolizes how “all of the polar states see the North as increasingly important.”

Yet as the Kremlin seeks to become more involved in Arctic affairs, ordinary Russian citizens are fleeing the high latitudes, a story which is profiled in the Guardian. The three biggest Arctic cities in the world, all of which are located in Russia, have lost 1/3 of their population in the past twenty years. To begin with, the region’s population was artificially inflated due to Soviet policy. But since 1989, with freedom of movement, people began moving outward. Recently, the drop in the price of commodities has exacerbated the outmigration from the mining and drilling towns of the north.

If Russia is to have a formidable presence in the Arctic, it will need the manpower to back up its statements. But while it is difficult enough under normal circumstances to find people willing to brave the chilly blasts as laborers or military men, it will be even harder for Russia when faced with the challenges of fleeing workers and a restless military.

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