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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Russia's new Arctic force to focus on border protection

RIA Novosti

30/03/2009 16:59 MOSCOW, March 30 (RIA Novosti) - Russia will prioritize the strengthening of its border guards while creating a special Arctic force in line with a new strategy to protect its regional interests, a senior parliamentary member said Monday.

The Russian Security Council posted on its website last Friday a document entitled "The fundamentals of Russian state policy in the Arctic up to 2020 and beyond."

The document outlines the country's strategy in the region, including the deployment of military, border and coastal guard units "to guarantee Russia's military security in diverse military and political circumstances."

According to the document, Russia will create by 2020 a group of forces to protect its political and economic interests in the Arctic.

"This is not about the creation of a new strike force. The military component [of the Arctic Group of Forces] will be optimized to accomplish new tasks. The main focus will be on tasks performed by border guard units," said Adm. (Ret.) Vyatcheslav Popov, head of the Commission on Maritime Policy in the upper house of the Russian parliament and the former commander of the Northern Fleet.

Popov stressed the necessity of building infrastructure for border guard units on Russia's Arctic coast and islands in the Arctic Ocean, as well as expanding the network of forward-based airfields in the region.

"The military component of the Arctic force will include units from the Northern and the Pacific fleets and military districts whose northern borders lie in the Arctic," the admiral said.

The new document also prioritizes the delineation of the Arctic shelf "with respect to Russia's national interests."

High Arctic territories, seen as the key to huge untapped natural resources, have increasingly been at the center of mounting disputes between the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, and Denmark in recent years as rising temperatures lead to a reduction in sea ice.

President Dmitry Medvedev said in September at a Russian Security Council session that the extent of the Russian continental shelf in the Arctic should be defined as soon as possible.

Medvedev also said the Arctic shelf was a guarantee of Russia's energy security and that the Arctic should become a resource base for Russia this century, adding that "about 20% of Russia's GDP and 22% of Russian exports are produced" in the area.

Russia has undertaken two Arctic expeditions - to the Mendeleyev underwater chain in 2005 and to the Lomonosov ridge in the summer of 2007 - to support its territorial claims in the region.

Moscow pledged to submit documentary evidence to the UN on the external boundaries of Russia's territorial shelf by 2010.

A Russian proposal on creating security structures in the Arctic region will be discussed at a ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council in April.

The Arctic Council was established in 1996 to protect the unique nature of the Arctic region. The intergovernmental forum comprises Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Canada, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

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