The militarization of Russian polar politics

Addressing the growing threat of tension and confrontation in the Arctic and Antarctica
Research paper Updated 9 October 2023 Published 6 June 2022 ISBN: 978 1 78413 525 6 DOI: 10.55317/9781784135256
Photo of Russian nuclear icebreaker Yamal cutting through the Arctic Ocean ice at the North Pole.

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.