A Battle for the Arctic Is Underway. And the U.S. Is Already Behind.

“In January, when an undersea telecommunications cable connecting this far-flung Arctic archipelago to mainland Norway and the rest of Europe was damaged, Norwegian officials called to port the only fishing vessel for miles, a Russian trawler. Police in the northern city of Tromsø interviewed the crew and carried out an investigation into the incident, which was seen as a major threat to the security of Norway and other nations, including the United States. Had there not been a back-up cable, the damage would have severed internet to the world’s largest satellite relay, one that connects the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and other government agencies from around the world to real-time space surveillance.
The investigation’s findings were inconclusive, if worrisome. Something “man-made” had damaged the cable, but Norwegian police could not prove the Russian fishing vessel was responsible, authorities told me. The police allowed the fishing boat crew to return to their ship and set back out to sea.”

“today, this Arctic desert is rapidly becoming the center of a new conflict. The vast sea ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is melting rapidly due to climate change, losing 13 percent per decade — a rate that experts say could make the Arctic ice-free in the summer as soon as 2035. Already, the thaw has created new shipping lanes, opened existing seasonal lanes for more of the year and provided more opportunities for natural resource extraction. Nations are now vying for military and commercial control over this newly accessible territory — competition that has only gotten more intense since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.”

“For the past two decades, Russia has been dominating this fight for the Arctic, building up its fleet of nuclear-capable icebreakers, ships and submarines, developing more mining and oil well operations along its 15,000 miles of Arctic coastline, racing to capture control of the new “Northern Sea Route” or “Transpolar Sea Route” which could begin to open up by 2035, and courting non-Arctic nations to help fund those endeavors.

At the same time, America is playing catch-up in a climate where it has little experience and capabilities. The U.S. government and military seems to be awakening to the threats of climate change and Russian dominance of the Arctic — recently issuing a National Strategy for the Arctic Region and a report on how climate change impacts American military bases, opening a consulate in Nuuk, Greenland, and appointing this year an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region within the State Department and a deputy assistant secretary of defense for Arctic and Global Resilience. America’s European allies, too, have been rethinking homeland security, increasing national defense budgets and security around critical energy infrastructure in the Arctic as they aim to boost their defense capabilities and rely less on American assistance.

But 17 Arctic watchers — including Norwegian diplomats, State Department analysts and national security experts focusing on the Arctic — said they fear that the U.S. and Europe won’t be able to maintain a grip on the region’s energy resources and diplomacy as Russia places more civilian and military infrastructure across the Arctic, threatening the economic development and national security of the seven other nations whose sovereign land sits within the Arctic Circle.”

“In Norway’s High North, a term used to describe the Norwegian Arctic territories, no fewer than seven Russian citizens have been detained over the last few months for flying drones, prohibited under the same bans for Russian airlines in European airspace. The drones were discovered flying near areas of critical infrastructure. One of those arrested in October was Andrey Yakunin, 47, the son of Vladimir Yakunin, the former president of Russian Railways and an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin who was sanctioned by the State Department after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.”

Why Brittney Griner was released now

“There is a possibility there were other elements to the deal. There might be something entirely secret that we don’t know and won’t know, something that it would be both in Russia’s and the US’s interests to keep behind closed doors. After all, that’s how the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved, through quiet diplomacy, a complete picture of which wasn’t clear until later.”

What to know about the $60 price cap, the plan to limit Russia’s oil revenues

“These are some of the biggest sanctions to date, as Europe — once the destination for about half of Russia’s oil exports — further weans itself off Russian energy. And Europe, along with the United States and other major economies, like the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, and Australia, have agreed to a maximum of $60 per barrel on Russian seaborne oil, which means anyone who still wants to buy Russian oil has to pay that price or less, if it wants to ship cargo through operators or insurers based in the EU or other countries who signed on to this price cap.”

“There are a lot of unknowns, but this is a dramatic and unprecedented move by the US and its partners — especially given how dependent Europe was on Russian energy. “If anyone told you a year ago that the EU is going to effectively eliminate its dependence on fossil fuel imports from Russia, over a period of a year, you would have thought they’re a complete lunatic,” said Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air.
It’s true that Europe continued to buy a lot of Russian oil and gas in the first half of the year, even after Russia invaded Ukraine. It’s also true that Moscow itself cut off supplies of natural gas, giving Europe little choice but to find alternatives. But even so, it’s a real and rapid scrambling of a relationship, and the EU has largely (if not perfectly) been decreasing its Russian fossil fuel imports with the expectation of the ban and other measures. Starting in February, the EU will also ban oil product imports from Russia.”

“There are already caveats. Though Russia isn’t exactly going to be transparent about this, the $60 price cap appears to be about what Russia is already selling its oil for, which means Russia’s oil revenues are unlikely to nosedive immediately. Some countries, like Poland, pushed for a much lower cap, and Ukraine has also said this doesn’t go far enough. There are also some questions around enforcement, as shippers have to attest they are abiding by the price cap, and negotiators ended up weakening some of the penalties for violators.

But the US and its allies were trying to strike a balance through a mechanism that hasn’t been attempted before. They wanted to avoid completely disrupting global oil markets while applying more pressure to Russia’s oil profits. The cap is not firmly set, and is subject to a review every two months. That means it — and its enforcement mechanisms — are likely to be tinkered with depending on how this all plays out.

“This is about balance. It was never about not having any Russian oil on the market. It was about balancing supply and demand but also balancing the need to limit Mr. Putin’s ability to profit. And again, we think that $60 per barrel will do that,” National Security Council coordinator for strategic communications John Kirby said on a press call Monday.

“It doesn’t mean that that cap can’t be adjusted going forward as we see the way it’s being implemented, and as we see how the Russians might react to it,” Kirby added.”

“Here’s how it’s supposed to work in practice: Any actor in a jurisdiction of the price-cap coalition that transports, insures, or finances the shipment of Russian oil by sea, can only do so if the price per barrel is $60 or less.

The reason the coalition thinks it could work is because a lot of maritime operators, insurers, and reinsurers are based in Europe and the United Kingdom — or as Myllyvirta put it: “The two big things are Greek ships and UK insurers.” That market domination would make it costly and cumbersome to insure your ship against an oil spill, say, or find an available tanker that doesn’t fall under a jurisdiction that’s adopted the price cap.”

“Russia has said it will not sell oil subject to the price cap, even if it has to scale back production. But this is easier said than done because Russia still needs oil buyers, like China and India, who now have a lot of leverage. “Am I going to buy [oil] at anything above 60 bucks, knowing that’s the only option Russia has? Are you going to do Putin a solid and say, ‘No, I’ll pay you $65, I’ll pay you $70.’ I’m not sure why they would, especially because they have all the cards,” Smith said.”

“Russia is under unprecedented financial and energy sanctions, especially for an economy of its size. Russia has weathered a lot of that pressure so far, and its energy and resource exports are a huge reason why. Still, sanctions are undoubtedly having an effect. Russia’s economy has shrunk. Import bans on advanced technology are forcing Russian manufacturers to scale back features — no airbags in cars, for example — because they can’t get parts. That is also affecting Russia’s ability to make advanced weapons. And even if Russia was buoyed by its oil and gas sales, those are declining, and Russia has been heavily taxing some of its oil and gas industries to try to raise more revenues. That can’t work forever, either.”

“there are still more sanctions to impose on Russia — we’re not at the level of an Iran or a North Korea yet — but that would come with repercussions for the United States, Europe, and the rest of the world, all of which is struggling with inflation and rising food and fuel prices.”

License to kill: How Europe lets Iran and Russia get away with murder

“Europe — the staging ground for most Iranian operations in recent years — has been afraid to make Tehran pay. Since 2015, Iran has carried out about a dozen operations in Europe, killing at least three people and abducting several others, security officials say.”

““If the Islamic Republic doesn’t receive any punishment, is there any reason for them to stop taking hostages or kidnapping or killing?” she said, and then answered: “No.””

“Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa. In Colombia, police arrested two men in Bogotá on suspicion they were plotting to assassinate a group of Americans and a former Israeli intelligence officer for $100,000; a similar scene played out in Africa, as authorities in Tanzania, Ghana and Senegal arrested five men on suspicion they were planning attacks on Israeli targets, including tourists on safari; in February of this year, Turkish police disrupted an intricate Iranian plot to kill a 75-year-old Turkish-Israeli who owns a local aerospace company; and in November, authorities in Georgia said they foiled a plan hatched by Iran’s Quds Force to murder a 62-year-old Israeli-Georgian businessman in Tbilisi.
Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: They won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear weapons program and renewing business ties.

Unlike the U.S. and Israel, which have taken a hard line on Iran ever since the mullahs came to power in 1979, Europe has been more open to the regime. Many EU officials make no secret of their ennui with America’s hard-line stance vis-à-vis Iran.

“Iran wants to wipe out Israel, nothing new about that,” the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told POLITICO in 2019 when he was still Spanish foreign minister. “You have to live with it.””

“the dictatorship’s rationale for such killings has been to protect itself.

“The highest priority of the Iranian regime is internal stability,” a Western intelligence source said. “The regime views its opponents inside and outside Iran as a significant threat to this stability.”

Much of that paranoia is rooted in the Islamic Republic’s own history. Before returning to Iran in 1979, Khomeini spent nearly 15 years in exile, including in Paris, an experience that etched the power of exile into the Islamic Republic’s mythology. In other words, if Khomeini managed to lead a revolution from abroad, the regime’s enemies could too.”

Can Ukraine’s infrastructure survive the winter?

“The scale of the destruction makes quick repairs impossible. Replacement parts are not often readily available. Energy infrastructure also remains vulnerable: A lot of it is big and out in the open; once hit by a missile and fixed, it can be hit again. “It’s not possible to repair quickly after it’s been damaged,” said Volodymyr Shulmeister, founder of the Infrastructure Council NGO and former first deputy minister of infrastructure of Ukraine from 2014 to 2015. “There were some spare parts, some electric power stations has been repaired, but there will be new problems coming from the air.”
That is on top of all the other destruction Ukraine accumulated in months and months of war: houses and apartment buildings, bridges, roads, railways. There is always collateral damage in conflict, but Russia’s attacks on non-military critical and energy infrastructure are intentional. “This is not a new tactic for Russia,” said John Spencer, a retired Army officer and chair of urban warfare studies at the Madison Policy Forum. “If you think about what they did in Chechnya, and in Syria, to basically bring the civilian population to such despair that they’re willing to capitulate.”

Moscow’s targeting of infrastructure, which some have argued amounts to war crimes, is an effort to undermine Ukraine’s economy and deprive people of essential services — heat, water, electricity — as winter approaches. Russia is struggling against Ukraine’s counteroffensive in the east and south, and so Moscow is trying to extend the war and spread out that pain across Ukraine, not just in war zones. All of it will make Ukraine even more reliant on aid from the West, which is dealing with its own inflation and energy crises. “Russians are actually now acting very cruel, but also in a very well-thought-through way,” said Andriy Kobolyev, former chief executive officer of Ukraine’s largest national oil and gas company Naftogaz.

In areas closer to the fighting, the infrastructure destruction is even more extreme, but also harder to fully assess. Zelenskyy accused Russian troops of destroying “all the critical infrastructure: communications, water, heat, electricity,” before retreating from Kherson last week. In Mykolaiv, in southern Ukraine, Russia cut off the city’s water supply months ago; salt water had run through the taps for months, and potable water is now just being restored. Zelenskyy said in early November, before the latest round of air strikes, that Russian attacks damaged about 40 percent of Ukraine’s energy infrastructure; precise data on how badly and where is hard to get, in part because Ukraine is closely guarding that information as a matter of national security.”