Strategic Perspectives

Russia Arctic Council Chairmanship


Troy J. Bouffard,
Dr. P. Whitney Lackenbauer
30 March, 2021

In this Strategic Perspectives, we consider areas of Russian Arctic national priority, contextualize the latest strategic documents, and provide perspectives on current and near-term opportunities for Russia with respect to Arctic strategic policies and behavior. The three key policy documents in Russia's updated plan for the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation (AZRF) that, when read together, provide essential insights into Russia’s broader Arctic strategy. On this basis, we anticipate how Russia is likely to seize opportunities to highlight its Arctic developments and priorities in carefully crafted language during its 2021-23 chairmanship of the Arctic Council, with a goal of expanding and enhancing its self-defined position in the Circumpolar North. It has set the major pieces in place to pursue a legitimizing campaign, and the world can expect clear, consistent themes and messaging that emphasize the Arctic’s importance for Russia – and the centrality of Russia in regional affairs. Russia will likely link issues that are a normal part of Arctic Council business with ancillary activities to promote its national security priorities. This is part of an overarching strategy that does not seek to revise Arctic governance structures or undermine regional peace but represents Russia’s strategic ‘center of gravity’ for the Arctic, designed to showcase the importance of its northern priorities and interests. We recommend that stakeholder competitors continue to refine their understanding of Russia’s ambitions under these circumstances and further develop potential responses as needed. In so doing, Western nations can better manage Russia’s strategic narrative goals that seek to leverage its comparative advantage as the largest Arctic actor and the primary host of the Arctic Council for two years.