Coast Guard chief: U.S. facing Russian ‘checkmate’ in Arctic

by WorldTribune Staff, May 4, 2017

Russia is several moves ahead of the United States when it comes to the Arctic, with Moscow building up a huge military and industrial presence while the U.S. dawdles, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard said on May 3.

Russia has “all their chess pieces on the board right now, and right now we’ve got a pawn and maybe a rook,” Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, said remarks before the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

One of Russia’s 40 icebreakers.

“If you look at this Arctic game of chess, they’ve got us at checkmate right at the very beginning.”

Related: Mattis concerned as Russia opens first of five Arctic military bases, April 19, 2017

Last month, Russia unveiled a new 14,000-square-meter (151,000-square-foot) permanent military base in the Arctic. The base will house 150 personnel on 18-month tours of duty, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

Moscow is constructing four other Arctic military bases.

Russia is showing “I’m here first, and everyone else, you’re going to be playing catch-up for a generation to catch up to me first,” said Zukunft. “They’ve made a strategic statement.”

The Arctic houses an estimated 30 percent of the world’s untapped gas reserves, 13 percent of the oil reserves, and $1 trillion in minerals, Foreign Policy reported on May 3.

Zukunft noted that Russia has 40 icebreakers that ensure access to Arctic sea lanes for both commercial and military ships, while the United States has only two in service today, and only one readily available for the Arctic.

“Having only one heavy icebreaker…it is the one aspect I lose sleep over,” he said, adding that he is pushing for funding from Congress to build six new icebreakers by 2023

Meanwhile, Russia is set to launch two icebreaking corvette-class ships armed with cruise missiles in the next several years. “We’re not building anything in the Navy surface fleet to counteract that,” Zukunft said.