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Published On: Tue, Apr 18th, 2017

Meet Russia’s New Arctic Military Base: And what have ExxonMobil and Rex Tillerson to do with it?

Christof Lehmann (nsnbc) : Russia’s Ministry of Defense invited to a virtual tour around its very real military base on Alexandra Land in the Franz Josef Archipelago in the Arctic. The architecture is futuristic, the interior designed by a military design bureau. Most important, however, is its function as the Arctic becomes an increasingly attractive and potentially disputed region because of new shipping lanes and hydrocarbons; and it’s here that the names Rex Tillerson and ExxonMobil come to mind.

Russia_MoD_2017_Alexandra Land_Franz Josef Archipelago_ArcticIt looks like three futuristic saucer craft have landed and docked with the mothership Russia, all dressed in Russian red, white and blue colors, on Alexandra Land in the Franz Josef Archipelago. “Mothership Russia calling Moscow we have landed… Da, da, minutichku basaluaste”. Projection of power packaged sexy and futuristic. It is Russia’s northernmost military complex, braving the Arctic environment with lows of minus 44 degrees Celsius and snow for more than 200 days each year.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu visited the base on Monday and has already named the base Nagursky after an old airbase on the island. As part of Russia’s new Arctic military command, formal authority over the base falls to Russia’s Northern Fleet, headquartered in Murmansk. Shoigu has probably had a more comprehensive tour of the base and he will understand the functions of the base better than they are described in the virtual tour. -

That said, one can take a full 360 degree virtual tour, courtesy the Russian Ministry of Defense and the Russian taxpayer HERE. The base comes complete with billiard rooms, a movie theater and ping-pong tables. After the completion of the base this year a military art bureau will be tasked with decorating and furnishing the base.

The base marks Moscow’s renewed drive for militarization on the extremes of Russia’s Arctic frontier which is a keystone of the Kremlin’s policy since 2014. Geopolitical projection of power to the north, the Arctic, its new shipping lanes and not least its resources. Add to that strategic projection of offensive and defensive power. Some 150 Russian military personnel will be stationed on the base. But don’t let yourself be fooled by the low number of personnel.

The base is likely to give Russia greater early warning time and conversely, the capacity to strike against its Arctic neighbors and potential rivals more swiftly. Most importantly, however, is that Moscow has increased its capacity to police the region and to project power locally where and when Moscow perceives that such a projection of power is needed. For example for the case that “some crazed environmentalists a.k.a. Greenpeace, usually denounced by Moscow as western proxies” should stage protests at oil rigs in the region again. Another primary function is that it (the base) and Russian personnel are there, permanently, and that everybody else knows it.

USA_Rex Tillerson_Mar 2017In September 2014 the President of Russia’s State-controlled energy giant Rosneft, Igor Sechin told the German Magazine Der Spiegel that Rosneft will be investing some $400 billion in energy exploration in the Arctic region before 2030. Rosneft and the U.S. American ExxonMobil, which has its headquarters in Irving, Texas, are cooperating on energy exploration in the Arctic; and that, despite the diplomatic deep freeze between the U.S., certain other NATO member states and Russia, over the situation in Ukraine and the Middle East.

That’s right, “the ExxonMobil” where now U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a top-job back in 2014. In 2011, on behalf of ExxonMobil, Tillerson signed an agreement with Russia for drilling in the Arctic that could be valued up to $300 billion. ExxonMobil began drilling in the Kara Sea in the summer of 2014.

arcticmap4-newThe company was despite sanctions against Russia over the situation in Ukraine granted a reprieve that stretched the window to work until October 10, which enabled it to discover a major field with about 750 million barrels of new oil for Russia. In 2013, Tillerson was awarded the Order of Friendship by Putin for his contribution to developing cooperation in the energy sector.

In June 2014, ExxonMobil head Glenn Waller said about the Arctic exploration: “if oil and gas are found in the Arctic region, our company will increase by times its investment in its exploration”.  Rosneft President Igor Sechin, for his part said “Our company sets a high value on cooperation with ExxonMobil which has continued for 20 years, starting from Sakhalin. In the Kara Sea, we are working at such depths where nobody drills at the moment. We expect to open a new oil province there, with reserves comparable to the developed reserves of Saudi Arabia”

The exploration of energy resources in the Arctic region is regulated by the Illulissat Declaration of 27 – 29 May 2008, (Copy of the declaration HERE) in which the littoral states of the Arctic Ocean, which are Canada, The Russian Federation, the USA, Norway and Denmark on behalf of Greenland which still is a de-facto Danish colony with certain self-determination rights, agreed on the peaceful cooperation with regard to the exploration and extraction of energy from the Arctic Ocean.

In 2015 the United States also issued permits for Arctic drilling despite similar concerns about environmental safety that prompted Greenpeace to launch an operation against a Russian oil rig, leading to the arrest of some of its activists. northern-sea-route_russia_neo_2016Although it is often neglected by media and “pundits” there is also a potential for Chinese – Russian rivalries with regard to Arctic fisheries. The same can be said about China and other Arctic neighbors. Russia’s projection of power to the Arctic comes also as Moscow intensifies its efforts to develop the Russian Northern Sea Route (NSR) running through the Arctic Ocean along the Russian Federation’s northern coast.

In his December 2015 address to the Federal Assembly, Russian President Vladimir Putin talked about the significance of the NSR. The NSR has been repeatedly referred to as the corner-stone of economic growth and transport safety for the northern territories and Russia as a whole.

By extension, and  by expanding the route eastwards, China and its European trading partners could also become beneficiaries of the NSR.

CH/L – nsnbc 18.04.2017

Related geopolitical analysis:

Tillerson visits Moscow: A New “Yalta” during the Trump and Putin Administrations?

About the Author

- Dr. Christof Lehmann is the founder and editor of nsnbc. He is a psychologist and former independent political consultant on conflict, conflict resolution and a wide range of other political issues. In March 2013 he established nsnbc as a daily, independent, international on-line newspaper. He can be contacted at nsnbc international at nsnbc.wordpress@gmail.com

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