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Russia commences Arctic naval patrols

Russia commences Arctic naval patrols 19.09.2013
Text: New Scientist
Photo: tvzvezda.ru
Climate change is bad news for most of us, but it is helping Russia boost its status as a naval power.

Last week a flotilla of Russian navy vessels completed a voyage across the Arctic Ocean. The Russian Ministry of Defence has since announced that this was the first of what will be regular patrols of newly accessible shipping lanes.

The lanes are now open during the summer owing to receding sea ice, and provide a maritime shortcut between northern Asia and western Europe. Given the risk of smuggling along its lengthy Arctic coast, it is natural for Russia to want to bolster its naval presence here, says Michael Byers a specialist in international law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada.

Despite suspicions about Russia's motives after a 2007 stunt in which a Russian submarine planted the country's flag on the seabed at the North Pole, Byers does not see the naval patrols as a harbinger of rising tensions over the Arctic's abundant oil, gas and other resources.

Rather, he suggests the Russian navy simply wants to make more use of Arctic ports after losing its Baltic bases when the Soviet Union broke up. "From a Russian military perspective, the Arctic is not just about access to the Arctic Ocean, but to the world's oceans," Byers says.

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