A Russian officer and soldiers stand next to a special military truck at the Northern Russian military base on Kotelny Island. Articles News Opinion

After the interruption of regional cooperation with the West, Russia will begin multilateral drills in its Arctic territory this week, in which nine non-Arctic countries will participate to test Russian-made equipment.

According to a statement on April 6 and 7, the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations will organize the Safe Arctic 2023 exercises in nine regions of the country’s Arctic zone.

Representatives from nine unidentified African, Latin American, and Eurasian nations are present. The exercises will feature rescue techniques and Russian-made vehicles, helicopters, and other equipment.

On the eve of the exercises, Moscow also carried out a 12-day research expedition to the Arctic for further testing of Russian equipment intended to ensure regional security.

While these developments are not necessarily military, they point to a broader trend in Russia’s Arctic defense strategy: increased interest in non-Arctic partnerships to help it secure its regional interests. 

This was noted in a revamped strategic planning document released by the Kremlin, emphasizing a greater openness to international collaborations. In the past, Moscow may have been more cautious when including non-Arctic neighboring nations in regional projects.

Threats to Russian Arctic activity have increased during the past few years. Russia might become even more isolated than it already is with Finland’s official entry into NATO and Sweden’s impending entry, as it would be the only Arctic state not a member of the Alliance. 

This implies a significant expansion of NATO’s borders with Russia and increased military cooperation between the allies, which recently concluded the month-long Arctic Forge exercise involving troops from 16 NATO member states.

Russia will hold exercises in the Arctic with non-Arctic countries.

These developments will not be welcomed by Moscow, which has not participated in the Arctic Council working groups since March 2022. After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Arctic Seven – Canada, the United States, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland – had taken the temporary decision to interrupt the work of the Council to issue a statement months later announcing the resumption of projects, but without Russian participation.

The Safe Arctic exercises will be held in the framework of the events of the Russian AC chairmanship in 2021-2023, which all other members have decided to boycott. Since ties were frozen, there has been much debate among experts about whether Arctic cooperation can be restored.

Five-sixths of Arctic stakeholders and professionals polled by Chatham House in December 2022 wanted AC member countries to resume collaboration with RussiaSkeptics said reconnecting with Moscow could symbolize a diplomatic victory for the country and validate its hostile behavior.

Russia increasingly seeks collaboration with other partners, including what the West views as strategic competitors. Recent research from the Arctic Institute suggests that Russia is actively courting Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern enterprises to invest in projects previously led by Western companies in the Arctic.

“After Western companies withdrew from the Russian Arctic due to sanctions, Russia’s Novatek is now looking to Emirati company Green Energy Solutions to receive major technology to build liquefied natural gas projects and Turkey’s Karpowership for a floating power plant,” the article states.

As an alternative to flying freight from New Delhi to Europe, the Russian Federation is in talks with India about building a trans-Arctic highway for container transit along the Northern Sea Route. If this goal were to be reached, it would represent a significant breakthrough between South Asia and the Arctic.