This Is How Russia Would Fight an Arctic War

Robert Farley

Key point: Moscow is better prepared than Washington to seize thawing Arctic resources.

Over the past decade, nations bordering on the Arctic have found themselves with a big new security problem. The melting of the arctic ice has opened up shipping lanes and opportunities for the exploitation for undersea resources, but has also exposed vulnerabilities for countries that have long considered their northern frontier secure.

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It’s not surprising that Russia has prepared its military for arctic operations better than any other country. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union prepared to fight across the Arctic, both in the air and at sea. Many of the weapons and much of the expertise from that era have remained, leaving the Kremlin with a lethal set of capabilities. Here are five systems we can expect Russia to use in order to defend its interests in the Arctic Ocean, in case the unthinkable ever occurred.


The single most important vessel for access to the arctic is the icebreaker, and Russia retains the most extensive fleet of icebreakers anywhere in the world. Warming does not eliminate arctic ice, but instead makes the movement of ice more fluid and less predictable. As access to the Arctic improves, and as the commercial interest in exploiting the region increases, the movement of ice and increased frequency of military and civilian use will make icebreakers more necessary than ever. Both civilian and military ships will require the support of icebreakers in order to proceed with their regular tasks, and for the foreseeable future, Russia is best equipped to serve as the guarantor of global access to the Arctic.

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