Temperatures in Russia are rising by more than double the global average, according to scientists, which shows Climate change and extreme weather not only affect US national security, as outlined in the review by Cipher Brief Expert Admiral Jim Stavridis hereIt also hits US allies and adversaries, creating new areas of instability and shifting power dynamics Russia’s more aggressive presence in the Arctic is a clear sign of the shift ahead.

In our ongoing series on climate change and its impact on national security, climate editor Kristin Wood looks at the impact climate change has on Russia.

Climate change and extreme weather will present Russia with both substantial opportunities and fundamental challenges to the Russians’ current way of life, a shift that is already underway. Russia’s opportunities will increase its ability to challenge US and US national security internationally, while the challenges will dampen and perhaps overwhelm Moscow’s ability to take advantage of these new opportunities.

As a relative latecomer and skeptic about the role people play in climate change, President Putin’s Russia ratified the 2015 Paris climate agreement only at the end of 2019. By January 2020, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will have a national climate adaptation plan that outlined numerous “potentially positive” changes and ways in which Russia could “use” the benefits “of climate change, including potentially improved access to energy reserves and increased agricultural production. Still, temperatures in Russia are already rising by more than double the global average, according to a Russian Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment 2018 report, and the goals of the plan horrified scientists and climate activists for doing little to create meaningful carbon reductions for the world’s fourth largest polluter.

Dr. John Holdren, the former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) under President Obama, noted in an interview last month that despite doubts from Putin and the Russian leadership, the Russian scientific community overwhelmingly agrees about the huge problem that man-made climate change poses for Russia. However, because the Russian economy is powered by hydrocarbons, the voices of scientists are likely to be unheard and unresponsive for years.

Melting Arctic Ocean

Taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the rapid melting of the polar ice, Putin has made expanding Russia’s position in the Arctic a top priority. Russia has developed the tools and infrastructure it needs to operate in the harsh conditions, providing Moscow with more than 400 military facilities and more than 40 icebreakers to support its presence in the region.

  • Russia’s dominance in the Arctic and administrative control of traffic on freshly navigable northern shipping lanes could increasingly limit the US’s ability to operate freely in the area or access the region, especially given the lack of a fleet of its own. icebreakers in the US.
  • Outside the region, the increased navigability of the Arctic has also opened up a new, direct route from Russia and China to the United States and Canada, giving both commercial shipping and a new front for maritime operations new access to the North American coasts. The US military must be able to operate in a “all new oceanAnd with new vulnerabilities at the northern borders of the US. This risk is exacerbated by Chinese interests there and Beijing is pursuing a “Polar Silk RoadAnd strives to establish itself as an Arctic power despite its physical distance from the region.
  • In addition to its military expansion in the Arctic, Russia is seeking to bolster its claims and secure rights in territory believed to be rich in oil and gas that was historically trapped beneath vast northern ice. The Russian Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East and the Arctic expected from December last year that Moscow would invest approximately $ 235 billion in developing the Arctic by 2035 to expand its icebreaker fleet, ports, and oil and gas extraction and production. In its recently adopted Energy strategy to 2035Russia continues to focus on expanding its domestic fossil fuel production and consumption, with a strong emphasis on expanding natural gas exports.
  • Although Russia’s maneuverability in the Arctic is increasing due to melting ice and a growing fleet of icebreakers, it has reportedly Arctic weapons including hypersonic cruise missiles and nuclear-powered underwater drones. These developments also expose the US to growing Russian missile capabilities – both conventional and nuclear – in the Arctic.

Melting permafrost

The benefits of a melting Arctic have potentially devastating side effects that should not be overlooked. In addition to flooding, permafrost thawing poses a threat to infrastructure in Russia’s northern regions as ports, roads, pipelines, buildings, nuclear power plants and hazardous waste sites are destabilized by sinking, softening soil.

Rural northern regions account for about 75 percent of the country’s oil and 95 percent of the country’s natural gas reserves, and infrastructure failures due to melting permafrost can cause serious disruptions in Russia’s energy production and exports and, consequently, the economy, as more than 20% of Russia’s GDP comes from the north Arctic area‘s energy sector. There are already about 7,000 incidents per year on major oil and gas pipelines caused by permafrost meltAnd in May 2020, an oil tank in the Arctic collapsed as a result of melting permafrost, causing a 135 square miles spillSuch incidents are likely to be mundane without an obligation to mitigate or increased adaptation efforts. Requirements for supporting infrastructure and energy processes will be extensive, and they will have to compete with similar needs for other military and civilian infrastructure.


Meanwhile, Russian agricultural production could be a winner. The Global Warming Trend, an environmental group of the Russian government notes, increases the area of ​​land suitable for agriculture, increases productivity and extends the vegetation period in many regions of the country. As a result, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization projects that Russia – already the world’s largest wheat exporter – could sustain 20 percent of the global wheat market by 2038. If Moscow can successfully move farmers and means of transportation into new cropland, Putin could achieve his goal of becoming an ‘agricultural superpower’. Moscow has significant geopolitics leverage with increasing climate-related food insecurity expected around the world.

The agricultural picture, like the Arctic, also faces challenges. Russia faces increasing climate-related threats from extreme weather, ranging from increased drought and forest fires in some regions to torrential rainfall and flooding in others. Such effects have already been observed last year. A protracted heat wave in Siberia set off wildfires that covered more than seven million acres and 50 million tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Perhaps more importantly, drought and intense heat are likely to be more severe and cover larger areas. Earlier heatwaves and droughts led to major reductions in Russian grain production and even increased global grain prices. Just as global warming causes shifts in vegetation patterns, it also involves the movement of pests and crops disease

As the US prepares to face the consequences of global warming under President Biden, the complications of Russia’s fortified position in the Arctic are the first and central priorities. Despite doing so little to prepare for Russia’s own consequences, Putin can see benefits in the wider global destabilization expected if climate change is not mitigated. He has long strived to undermine and disrupt the governments of other countries for Russian gain, something that climate change does – and, as a bonus, is likely to capture Western financial and military resources with relief efforts – without Moscow having to do anything. to do. .

The author of this report is Kristin Wood, Senior Climate Editor for The Cipher Brief, a Cipher Brief expert, a non-resident fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs’ Intelligence Project, and a former senior CIA -officer.

Mary McMahon contributed research for this report. McMahon is a former CIA climate change and global energy markets analyst currently completing a Masters in Public Policy from John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, with a focus on energy and climate policy.

Find out more expert-driven national security news, insights and analytics in The Cipher Brief


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