The militarization of Russian polar politics

Think tank: Chatham House

Author(s): Mathieu Boulègue

June 6, 2022

This report from UK think tank Chatham House looks at addressing the growing threat of tension and confrontation in the Arctic and Antarctica.

Russia’s policies for the polar regions overlap and are increasingly becoming militarized, as the perception of threats to Russian national interests grows. This has direct consequences for other polar nations and for NATO and its allies. In the Arctic, a fear of encirclement by NATO and its allies informs this posture – heightened by worsening relations with the West over Russia’s renewed war against Ukraine and potential NATO expansion. Another key Russian goal is to secure control over the Northern Sea Route, amid increased human activity prompted by climate change. In Antarctica, Russia perceives a need to protect its national interests against other state parties to the Antarctic Treaty System. This paper details the reasons behind Russia’s militarized postures in the Arctic and Antarctic regions. It assesses the North and South Poles as potential theatres for military activity and geopolitical confrontation, and recommends ways to mitigate risks for the US, NATO and their allies.