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Argument: Russia’s Military Exercises in the Arctic Have More Bark Than Bite Russia’s Military Exercises in the Arcti...
It is a good bet that, this summer, security pundits will be talking about a new Cold War in the Arctic. Year after year, Russia holds military exercises there. And every year, they break new post-Cold War records for size and complexity. Last year’s Vostok 2018 officially involved some 300,000 service members, according to the Kremlin. This year’s Tsentr 2019 is sure not to disappoint.
For the most part, Russia’s large-scale military exercises are scheduled and predictable, although short snap exercises do typically occur in the days leading up to the main event. The country schedules four major drills on a rotating basis: Vostok (East), Zapad (West), Tsentr (Center), and Kavkaz (South), which correlate to Russia’s military districts. The last Tsentr exercise was in 2015, and it involved an estimated 100,000 military personnel and focused on Russia’s command and control capabilities in the southeastern corner of the Central Military District, which covers Russia’s central Volga, Ural, and Siberian regions.
This year, Tsentr will be conducted at the northern end of the district in the Northern Sea Route (NSR), an emerging maritime corridor connecting Europe to Asia. According to the Russian government, the exercise will focus on maintaining a high level of preparedness for combat in an Arctic environment.
Beyond that, Tsentr 2019 will likely have three main goals. First, Russia wants to demonstrate its area denial capabilities in the Arctic as well as its maneuverability in the NSR. Second, Tsentr 2019 will demonstrate Russia’s intentions to maintain a strong presence in the Arctic. But that agenda is not surprising or new; sheer geography makes Moscow the largest Arctic player, and the Kremlin has never hidden its desire to keep the lead. Finally, the exercise seeks to demonstrate that Russia can protect its energy investments in the Arctic.
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