Professor Katarzyna Zysk – Written evidence (ARC0016)


This document contains supplementary written evidence after the oral evidence session on 3 May 2023.


What has been the focus of Russian military and economic development in the Arctic over the past 15 years? Senior Russian figures have repeatedly said that Russia’s Arctic military modernisation is purely defensive – is this credible?


It is important to note the Russian concept of "active defence". The concept is critical to understanding the Russian approach to the offence-defence question in general, and in the High North in particular. In general terms, the concept highlights the element of pre-emption and offensive operations defined as defence. The concept is defined as a coordinated use of military and non-military means to preempt and neutralise the opponent. Indeed, it was employed by Russia right before and during the first days of the re-invasion of Ukraine. The forces deployed in the High North played a central role in providing Russia deterrence and preparing to “neutralize” a potential Western involvement. Furthermore, it is important to note that the majority of the Russian weapons and infrastructure in the Central and Eastern parts of the Arctic are predominantly of a defensive character (e.g. radars, early warning, air defences).   

Furthermore, the ‘High North - Low Tension’ slogan appears to be rather outdated. Developed and promoted by the Norwegian government since the early 2000s, it does no longer reflect the reality of the strategic situation in the region. Indeed, the Russian authorities have exploited the strong urge among many Western partners in the region interested in maintaining a low tension in the region through integration of Russia in various cooperation structures. The Russian authorities have promoted the image of the Arctic as a  ‘zone of peace and cooperation’, and ‘a territory of dialogue’, while at the same time expanding their military presence and activity. The main objective behind the exploitation of the idea of ‘Arctic exceptionalism’ was to limit NATO’s and US’ military presence in the region.


In your view, could a conflict between NATO and the West be initiated in the Arctic? How high is the risk that a conflict between Russia and the West in another region could spill over into the Arctic?

We should be careful about getting too complacent about the long-standing prevailing assessment of conflict potential in the Arctic. Since the early 2010s, in particular, it has been a mantra in academic circles to say that a conflict in the Arctic would be more likely to originate outside the region as a spill-over from a major confrontation involving Russia and another great power. This still rings true today. However, the region and, importantly, the changing international strategic environment, increases the potential for a possible intended and unintended regional escalation.



In your view, has the UK Government set the right priorities for its Arctic policy, and are there sufficient resources to achieve them? Given the many demands on the UK’s military and diplomatic resources, should the Arctic be a strategic priority for the UK?


The UK has been a valued partner in the High North. What is needed is a continuation of what has been an extensive and effective engagement in the region over the past years. It is crucial is to maintain a long-term perspective on the regional development, as well as a robust, credible, yet predictable military presence to strengthen regional stability and low the risk of unintended escalation. This requires a continued cooperation and good coordination with other partners in the region on issues such as:




30 May 2023