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Moscow warns US: Russian special forces are training for Arctic conflict

Washington Examiner logo Washington Examiner 2/23/2019 Joel Gehrke
Vladimir Putin wearing a suit and tie © Provided by MediaDC: Washington Newspaper Publishing Company, Inc.

Russian special forces are training for a potential conflict in the Arctic, a top lawmaker in Moscow said in a warning to the Trump administration.

“We have our own armed forces, which also have generals, just as capable, in my opinion,” Andrei Klimov, a member of the Russian legislature’s foreign affairs committee, told state-run TASS. “We have special units that may act in the Far North and its conditions, who have distinguished themselves.”

Klimov issued that warning in response to Adm. James Foggo, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Europe and Africa, who told the Washington Examiner and other reporters in a recent interview that neither Russia nor China would be permitted to dominate the Arctic region. Klimov took that statement to mean that the United States intends to control the Arctic.

“The generals’ opinion is not the be-all and end-all for us so far,” he told TASS. “As for the issue itself, there are international rules that regulate the use of land and sea, and we have proven a long time ago from the viewpoint of geology and geography which areas of land and sea gravitate towards the Russian Federation.”

Klimov's rhetoric was more abrasive than Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov's message to the Munich Security Conference last week.

"You might get an impression that nobody except NATO have any right to be anywhere, except their own waters," Lavrov said in a rebuke of Western complaints about Russian military operations in international waters. "We don't believe that the Arctic cooperation requires any military dimension and I hope this will be the case with our partners as well."

Foggo also stressed that the Arctic waters are an international domain. “It’s nobody's lake,” the admiral, who also leads Joint Forces Command Naples, said during an interview last week on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference. “It should have free and fair access to, certainly, all the Arctic Council nations — of which we are a member.”

He made that comment while discussing the recent flurry of Russian and Chinese activity in the region, which has NATO allies and partners in northern Europe on the watch but could also spell tension between Beijing and Moscow.

“We see a lot of activity between the Chinese and the Russians, but the Russians consider the Arctic their domain,” Foggo said. “And, it’s really an international domain, and that’s why we're interested in keeping it free and open.”

Klimov suggested that Foggo should be interpreted as saying that “if it’s free, then it’s ours,” adding that he “would prefer it if it weren’t the generals speaking out about political issues” such as Arctic competition.

“We also have our icebreaker fleet, the strongest in the world, which facilitates our peace agenda,” he added, which is working to open a new shipping lane through the melting glaciers across the North Pole. "The active work of this passage may significantly change all existing trade and economic schemes in Eurasia, and the Americans are not very interested in that.”

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