In Alaska, one of the most militarized states in the United States and also known as Russian America, the United States is preparing to regain dominance of the Arctic, threatened by Moscow’s aggressive military expansion aimed at its vast reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals. The NYT article
After parachuting into Alaska’s freezing interior, Captain Weston Iannone and his soldiers traveled miles through deep snow and eventually set up a temporary outpost on a ridge beside a spruce grove. who are trying to survive.
Darkness was falling, the temperature had dropped below freezing, and the 120 men and women who had gathered as part of a large combat drill in subarctic Alaska had not yet pitched their tents. The refueling line, essential for keeping warm during the long night ahead, was running late.
“It’s all a challenge, from the water, to the fuel, to the food, to moving people, to keeping them comfortable,” said Captain Iannone, commander of the 27-year-old company, as his soldiers shoveled deeper into the snow at the looking for a solid foundation to put up their sleeping quarters. “This is training that shows how far we can push ourselves physically and mentally”.
This month’s first exercise, involving some 8,000 troops outside Fairbanks, was planned long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but was driven in part by Russia’s aggressive moves in recent years to militarize the Arctic – one part of the world where the United States and Russia share a long maritime border – writes the NYT.
Tensions have been mounting in the region for years as nations claim the shipping routes and energy reserves that are opening up as a result of climate change. Now, with the shift in the geopolitical order following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the competition for sovereignty and resources in the Arctic could intensify.
On the west coast of Alaska, the federal government is investing hundreds of millions of dollars to expand the Port of the city Nome, which could develop into a deep-sea hub serving Coast Guard and Navy ships sailing the Arctic Circle. . The Coast Guard expects to deploy three new icebreakers – even though Russia already has more than 50 in operation.
And while the United States has denounced Russia’s aggressive military expansion into the Arctic, the Pentagon has its own plans to increase its presence and capabilities, working to rebuild skills in cold conditions neglected during two decades of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Air Force has moved dozens of F-35 fighter jets to Alaska, announcing that the state will host “more advanced fighters than anywhere else in the world.” The military last year released its first strategic plan to “regain dominance of the Arctic”.
The Navy, which conducted exercises above and below the sea ice within the Arctic Circle this month, has also developed a plan to protect American interests in the region, warning that weakness would mean that “peace and prosperity will be increasingly questioned by Russia and China, whose interests and values ​​differ dramatically from ours ”.
Preparations are costly both in terms of resources and personnel. While Captain Iannone’s company was able to finish setting up their tents before midnight and survived the night without incident, other companies did not fare as well: eight soldiers suffered cold injuries and four soldiers were brought in. hospital after a fire inside a personnel transport vehicle.
Meanwhile, in another recent cold-weather exercise in Norway, four US Marines died when their plane crashed.
Russia, whose eastern mainland across the Bering Strait is just 55 miles off the coast of Alaska, has for years prioritized an expanded Arctic presence by renovating airfields, adding bases, training troops and developing a network of military defense systems on the northern border.
With warming climate reducing sea ice in the region, valuable fish stocks are shifting north, while rare minerals and sizable Arctic fossil fuel reserves are becoming a growing target for exploration. Ship traffic is destined to increase for both trade and tourism.
Two years ago, Moscow took its war games across the Bering Sea, with Russian commanders testing weapons and demanding that American fishing boats operating in US fishing waters get out of the way – an order. that the US Coast Guard has advised them to respect. Russia has repeatedly sent military aircraft to the edge of US airspace.
This month, in response to the escalation of international sanctions against Moscow, a member of the Russian parliament demanded that Alaska be returned to Russian control as the United States bought it from Russia in 1867. Perhaps a rhetorical gesture that nevertheless reflects the deterioration of relations between the two world powers.
For centuries, the vast waters of the offshore Arctic have largely been an ice-blocked no man’s land, whose exact territorial boundaries – claimed by the United States, Russia, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Iceland – have remained uncertain. But with the melting of sea ice, which has opened up new navigation routes and with the interest of nations in the vast reserves of hydrocarbons and minerals under the Arctic seabed, the complicated treaties, claims and border areas that govern the region have been open to new controversies.
Canada and the United States have never agreed on the status of the Northwest Passage between the North Atlantic and the Beaufort Sea. China has also worked to establish a foothold, declaring itself a “state near the Arctic” and partnering with Russia to promote “sustainable” development and extensive use of Arctic trade routes.
Russia has made it clear that it intends to control the so-called North Sea Route off its northern coast, a route that significantly shortens the sailing distance between China and Northern Europe. US officials have complained that Russia is not only illegally asking other nations for permission to pass but also threatening to use military force to sink non-conforming ships.
“We are stuck in a rather tense situation,” said Troy Bouffard, director of the Arctic Security and Resilience Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “Either we agree to Russia, its extreme control of surface waters or we escalate the issue.”
The goal in recent years had been to expand diplomatic channels by collaborating on a number of regional challenges through the Arctic Council. This work, however, was put on hold after Russia invaded Ukraine.
In Nome, which hopes to position itself as a seaport to the Far North, there has long been evidence that a new era for the Arctic was upon us. Mayor John Handeland said winter sea ice, which once lasted until mid-June, may now disappear in early May and not reappear until Thanksgiving.
A record 12 cruise ships docked at the existing port of Nome in 2019. That number was set to double this year, although some cruises that had planned to sail along Russia’s north coast have canceled the plans. For Handeland, it is the right time to strengthen the capabilities of the United States: “I think we had a period of time where we believed that everything was okay, that we could let our guard down, so to speak. And now we are seeing that perhaps it was not a wise idea ”.
But there are more local constituencies that have to navigate as development moves into the Arctic. Alaskan natives are wary of the impact on the region’s fragile environment, on which many depend for hunting and fishing, said Julie Kitka, president of the Alaska Federation of Natives. that our military must protect the country and that they need to invest in a presence in the Arctic, but it must be done intelligently ”.
Dan Sullivan, the Republican Senator from Alaska, said while there may be a small threat of a Russian invasion of Alaska, there is concern about Russia’s military rise in the region.
“Ukraine proves even more that what matters to these people is presence and power,” Sullivan said. “And when you start building ports, when you start carrying on icebreakers, when you start carrying on Navy ships, when you have over 100 fifth generation fighters in the Arctic in Alaska, we are starting to speak Putin’s language. “.
Alaska is already one of the nation’s most militarized states, with more than 20,000 active duty personnel assigned to locations such as Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Wainwright in the Fairbanks area, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, and Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak. . The large army training exercise – the first rotation of the Combat Training Center held in Alaska – took place around Fort Greely, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks. Alaska is also home to critical parts of the nation’s missile defense system.
Bouffard said the fracture in relations caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could open the door to a number of future problems that can only be guessed at right now. While there is no impending conflict in the Arctic, there could be friction over how Russia handles offshore waters or disputes over undersea exploration. The United States, according to Bouffard, must also be prepared to help allies in northern Europe who share an uncertain future with Russia in Arctic waters.
This means being prepared for a number of potential problems. In a separate military exercise in Alaska in recent weeks, Marine and Army teams have practiced strategies to contain chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear contamination. In a drill near Fort Greely, soldiers tested a scenario in which paratroopers took control of an airfield and established operations to hold new territory. An opposing force then mobilized to try to recover the area.
Portable heaters were used to keep the engines running, along with lubricants that operate in sub-zero temperatures. Some soldiers used skis and snowshoes to get around, as well as snowmobiles and support vehicles of small units light enough to traverse deep snow.
For many of the soldiers under Captain Iannone’s command, defending the airfield meant establishing positions in remote areas by more rudimentary means. A group of heavy weapons felled trees by hand and used a sled to pull a bulky ITAS weapon system to a lookout point from which soldiers could scan miles of the landscape below.
They erected a tent with a small stove, protected by a snow wall on all sides. They rotated in hourly shifts outside the tents – every half hour at night – in order to keep the heat out.
“It’s all about facing the cold, enduring the cold,” said 21-year-old soldier Owen Prescott, who is from Southern California. “I’m used to wearing shorts and flip-flops all along”.
(Extract from the foreign press review by eprcomunicazione)

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