Arctic Adviser: ‘Not Clear’ What Russia Is Doing With Military Base Near Alaska

It’s “not clear” what Russia hopes to achieve in deploying new military infrastructure in its far northeast, not far from Alaska, but the U.S. isn’t happy about it, the executive director of the U.S. Arctic Executive Steering Committee said Monday.

Mark Brzezinski, a former ambassador to Sweden, expressed confusion when asked about Russia’s motivation in stationing troops at Chukotka, about 50 miles east of Alaska, while speaking at an event organized by the Atlantic Council. Brzezinski is executive director of the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which coordinates Arctic priorities across all executive agencies.

“It’s not clear, but we aren’t passive or indifferent regarding what happens there,” Brzezinski said, when asked what Russia is doing, why they are doing it, and what the U.S.’s response will be. “But we’re also clear that we do not want to see militarization of the region or the security issues spike.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reportedly said in September that a division of troops would be stationed in Chukotka to create a “coastal defense division” in 2018.

Brzezinski cast Russia’s move as an exception to the rule of peaceful international cooperation when it comes to Arctic research, especially on issues of climate resiliency. He said Russia “participated at a high level” in the White House Arctic Science Ministerial in Washington, D.C., in September.

Melanie Nakagawa, deputy assistant secretary for energy transformation, at the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources, added that she was “impressed with the type of collaboration we’ve seen, despite other challenges in other fora.”

Other than Russia, Brzezinski noted that the successful trip of the Crystal Serenity, a cruise ship that sailed from Alaska to New York through a northern passage, was a high-profile instance of international cooperation between the U.S. and Canada. The ship traversed a route that would often be impassible because of ice, and the U.S. Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security coordinated with the Canadian government to prepare for a possible accident in remote waters. The trip went fine, but the agencies were “prepared on gameday,” Brzezinski said.