Russia Is Building a New Military Base in the Arctic

The cold war over the Arctic continues

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Ageyenko Igor/ITAR-TASS Photo/Corbis

The increasingly ice-free Arctic Ocean is tempting the world's powers both with new shipping routes and with the prospect of oil and mineral riches. The climatological change in the polar region has sparked rising tensions and a rapid militarization of the region. The Moscow Times is calling it the Colder War.

Two of the countries with a vested interest in the Arctic are Russia and Canada. This week Annalee Newitz at io9 wrote that Russia is building a new military base on Wrangel Island, an island just north of the boundary between Russia and Alaska.

“Putin sees control of the Arctic as a matter of serious strategic concern for Moscow,” says the Moscow Times.

The construction of the new Arctic bases, which will be the first new facilities established in the area since the Soviets abandoned their Arctic positions in the waning years of the Cold War, marks a milestone in Russia's militarization of the region.

In Canada, meanwhile, the government is taking a less obvious approach to staking a claim in the Arctic. Earlier this week, Smart News wrote about how a research expedition funded by the Canadian government turned up the wreckage of one of the two ships involved in the Franklin Expedition to chart the northwest passage. Yet even this archaeological and historical quest has political undercurrents, says Ben Makuch for Motherboard.

As in everything else Arctic related for Canada, [Canadian Prime Minister Stephen] Harper is also using this historic moment as a way of building the Canadian narrative claim to the Arctic.

Finding the Franklin Expedition ships, says Makuch, “will help establish for his relatively young country the historical chops to compete with Russia’s own aggressive claim over disputed and potentially resource-rich Arctic land.”

“Of course, Canada didn’t exist at the time of Franklin’s journey, and any actual historical link with the voyage is tenuous,” he adds.