Arctic Yearbook 2014
While those improvements are often seen as serious in terms of military capabilities, the majority
of advertised military programmes have been launched to modernize current capabilities and
replace decommissioned weapon systems. It means, in the best-case scenario, that they slow the
gradual downsizing of armed forces. The icebreaker fleet is a cogent example of the continuously
shrinking capabilities, which will not be able to maintain current levels even through the already
declared modernization plans. Altogether, these changes have little or nothing to do with power
projection outside of Russian territory. Most of them are supporting border patrol capabilities
and protecting national territories that have recently become more accessible.
Therefore, the Kremlin’s strong announcements about the large acquisition of military
capabilities are misleading and have little prospect of being completely realized (mainly for
financial reasons). These “political dances” are mostly addressed as a message for domestic
audience, even though they have drawn international attention. The Russian strategic interest is
to maintain the status quo, as within the current situation they have the most advantage.
Cooperation with other Arctic states is the utmost priority for Moscow, as it guarantees some
level of stability and necessary know-how for economic prospects. Any changes at the
international platforms, which could lead to the isolation of Russia, would have dramatic
consequences, as it could weaken Russia’s Arctic position. As Byers notes, even though the
Arctic Council was established as part of efforts to engage Russia in the post Cold War era, the
latest developments might stir the Kremlin’s biggest concern, that is that NATO could
potentially speak with one voice against Russia (Byers 2014).
Russian shortfalls in transparency about their long-term military ambitions could also have a
negative impact on the region’s security, and in the end on Moscow’s strategic position as well.
Russia’s unclear and insufficient communication about the current status of their armed forces
and modernization plans could lead to serious concerns on the part of other Arcti