“The Russian military operations in August inside the U.S. economic zone off the coast of Alaska were the latest in a series of escalated encounters across the North Pacific and the Arctic, where the retreat of polar ice continues to draw new commercial and military traffic. This year, the Russian military has driven a new nuclear-powered icebreaker straight to the North Pole, dropped paratroopers into a high-Arctic archipelago to perform a mock battle and repeatedly flown bombers to the edge of U.S. airspace.
As seas warmed by climate change open new opportunities for oil exploration and trade routes, the U.S. Coast Guard now finds itself monitoring a range of new activity: cruise ships promising a voyage through waters few have ever seen, research vessels trying to understand the changing landscape, tankers carrying new gas riches, and shipping vessels testing new passageways that sailors of centuries past could only dream of.
Russia’s operations in the Arctic have meant a growing military presence at America’s northern door. Rear Adm. Matthew T. Bell Jr., the commander of the Coast Guard district that oversees Alaska, said it was not a surprise to see Russian forces operating in the Bering Sea over the summer, but “the surprise was how aggressive they got on our side of the maritime boundary line.”
In the air, U.S. jets in Alaska typically scramble to intercept about a half-dozen approaching Russian aircraft a year, outliers on the long-range nuclear bomber patrols that Russia resumed in 2007. But this year that number has risen to 14 — on pace to set a record since the Cold War era. In the most recent case, last month, the United States responded to the approach of two Russian bombers and two Russian fighters that came within 30 nautical miles of Alaskan shores.”