Is the North American Arctic vulnerable to Russian invasion?

What is the condition of the North American Arctic?

The near-total and complete isolation people face in the northernmost part of the planet exacerbates danger and everyday life.   

“You can literally fly for hours without seeing anything. Only tundra, light forests and taiga,” he said. “I worked in -78 degrees Celsius (-108F).    

If you don’t know how to trade in this weather, you will be a problem with search and rescue. Or you lose body parts due to frostbite. The tip of your nose.” 

Despite its loneliness and sparse population, this vast expanse of North America – more significant than all of Europe – is currently attracting the attention of governments and security experts. When tensions are high following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, they warn that the North American Arctic could be vulnerable.   

“Vladimir Putin is behaving more and more irrationally,” said Leblanc, who led troops and early warning systems in Canada’s northern territories for years. “When the enemy begins to act irrationally, you must make sure that the defence of your country is up to par. In the Canadian Arctic, this is a problem – we haven’t done enough.” Many of Canada’s top defence officials echoed Mr Leblanc’s warnings.  

Chief of Defense Staff Wayne Eyre recently told a Canadian security conference that the High North is “a key area of ​​interest,” adding that “it is possible that our sovereignty could be called into question.” 

And just this month, the US-Canadian Joint Aerospace Defense Command conducted its annual exercise in the Canadian Arctic, with the stated intention of testing its ability to “respond to both aircraft and cruise missiles threatening North America.” The Russian threat to the Arctic can come in many forms, experts say, from small-scale and highly logistical commando raids on Canadian installations on the northernmost island of Ellesmere to nuclear submarines prowling undetected in Arctic waters. Ice. Russian missiles, including potentially nuclear ones, would also have to cross the Arctic to hit targets in southern Canada or the United States in a conflict.  

One such missile, the hypersonic Kinzhal, which can travel five times the speed of sound, has just been used in combat for the first time in Ukraine. Katarzyna Zisk, an expert on Russian military and Arctic security at the Norwegian Defence Research Institute, told the BBC that Russia could increasingly rely on these weapons to meet the challenges of an ageing navy and equipment and reports they suffered after being redeployed to Ukraine. hit hard. “They’ve invested in these long-range precision weapons,” he added, “missile technology is one area where Russia has an advantage. Nuclear technology is different.” LeBron warned that Canada’s ability to defend against such threats is “Limited” because its extensive early warning system is based on “very old” or sometimes outdated technology that has been in use since the Cold War.    

The country’s two principal air bases in the Arctic, Inuvik and Iqaluit, are more than 2,800 km apart. “This is a huge challenge in terms of monitoring this space. The first thing you need to know is what’s going on,” he said. “I’m not sure [Canada’s defence] will be that useful against high-velocity or hypersonic missiles, so we need to strengthen our position. We need systems that provide what we call “dominance awareness” and allow us to understand what’s going on.” happening in our backyard.”

However, not all Arctic observers are convinced that Russia poses a direct threat to the North American Arctic. Michael Byers, an Arctic expert at the University of British Columbia, said that while tensions rise sharply in the European Arctic, where Russia clashes with Scandinavia, Russia is unlikely to consider any incursions or escalation along the icy border of Canada. “Things are calm on this side of the Arctic and will probably stay that way,” he said. “The main military mission in the Canadian Arctic is to search and rescue. It is so far away from Russia, and Russia has little incentive to interfere.” 

Byers argues that much of the discussion about Canada’s security in the Arctic is driven by domestic political issues. “Arctic sovereignty is an essentially political issue in Canada, and opposition parties have criticized governments for neglecting it. When parties lose power, they tend to make it more critical, and when parties form governments, they tend to play it down.    

It’s kind of like a loop. “But the vast majority of Canadians have never been to the North Pole and don’t understand how big and hostile it is, and how difficult, expensive and dangerous it is for a major military operation,” he said Russia was far away.   

A more immediate consequence of the growing tension in the Arctic over the war in Ukraine could be the primarily disrupted cooperation between Russia and other Arctic states, including Canada, leading to future collaboration aimed at monitoring potentially dangerous events Uncertainty. Such as oil spills and tackling climate change. 

“But now we see how Russia has abandoned its presidency for its Ukrainian goals, which is disturbing,” he added. “The effort was very effective and very powerful. It practically got us all thinking about what will happen in the future.” 

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