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Forget Syria, Russia’s muscle is moving closer to Canada’s doorstep

Putin’s military buildup in Arctic, Pacific could set new Canadian defence priorities

By Brian Stewart


An oddity of Canada’s foreign policy of late is how gravely we viewed Russia’s expanding power in distant Eastern Europe and Syria, yet took scarce note of Moscow’s actions closer to our own Arctic and Asia-Pacific interests.

Even allowing for the vast distances involved, Vladimir Putin’s strategic thrusts are almost on our doorstep and may well require far more serious attention from the incoming Liberal government.

For Russia is militarizing its section of the Arctic and expanding its naval operations through the already tense Asian rim of the Pacific at a time when more than half dozen nations there — including, in particular, the U.S., China and Japan — are struggling to redefine a new balance of power in the region.

Granted, Russia is not Canada’s only concern, but Russia is special.

It’s our feisty northern neighbour and our relations are in the pits. Canada was reportedly even seen in Moscow as the most anti-Russian nation on Earth in the more recent Stephen Harper years.

It is a special case, as well, because President Putin seems determined to expand Russia’s muscle and influence wherever he can, and after having boosted military spending by $600 billion over the past decade, he has lots of options.

Arctic war games

For one, he has made a priority of the Arctic, where huge amounts of untapped oil and gas reserves are expected to become extractable as ice caps melt, and where strategically advantageous shipping lanes could yet open to fleets of Russian and Chinese icebreakers.

Militarization of the Arctic is always worrisome because of the quaint vagueness surrounding who owns what.

This sovereignty holdover from the colonial era still hasn’t been settled, which means disputed expansions and future intimidation can be expected, not unlike what’s going on now in the South China Sea.

The U.S. has significant Arctic-ready forces already stationed in Alaska. To match this, Putin recently set up Russia’s grandly titled “Arctic Joint Strategic Command North,” consisting of two motorized brigades and Pantsir-S1 anti-air missiles.

Moscow is also constructing four Arctic outpost bases as well as airfields and new radar stations.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper walks past Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G20 Summit in St. Petersburg. Even before Ukraine, the two leaders didn’t have much in the way of a relationship.

Russia is also far more active in the Arctic than the U.S. and Canada.

Last March, for example, Putin oversaw


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