U.S. Arctic Rep: Russia’s Arctic Buildup Not Necessarily Martial

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Robert Papp, the U.S. special representative for the Arctic, says he questions reports that Russia has launched a major military buildup in the Arctic. Papp says he’s asking U.S. intelligence agencies to look beyond Russia’s military swagger for a realistic view of its Arctic activity. Papp says Moscow could be adding infrastructure for general use in the north.

“One person can look at what’s going on in terms of what they call ‘military buildup’ and rightfully say they’ve got an awful long border along the Arctic, and if you’re going to have increased maritime traffic you should have search-and-rescue facilities, you should have modern airports and other things — things I’d like to have built in Alaska as maritime traffic increases,” he said.

Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno spoke yesterday of Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic.

“We have seen over the last several years an obvious increased interest in the Russians in the Arctic,” Odierno said at a U.S. Senate hearing. “There are clear indications … that they are increasing their presence and building bases so in the future they will be able to increase the presence and have an impact in the Arctic region.”

Last week, the secretary of defense said much the same, and the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff said Russia is activating four new brigades in the Arctic.

The U.S. and other Arctic nations have imposed sanctions on Russia for its incursions in Ukraine. But Papp says the Obama Administration and other Arctic countries also agree it’s important not to shut Russia out.

“For the good of the Arctic, for the environment and other important issues, we need to keep Russia in the fold and keep communications open,” he said. “We are all committed to that. ”

Papp, a retired Coast Guard admiral, spoke this morning at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.