US Surprised by Russia's Willingness to Share Arctic Plans: Admiral

A Russian aircraft-carrier during military exercises of the North Fleet in August 2005 in the Barents Sea (Alexey Panov/ITAR-TASS / Presidential Press Service/AFP/File)
A Russian aircraft-carrier during military exercises of the North Fleet in August 2005 in the Barents Sea (Alexey Panov/ITAR-TASS / Presidential Press Service/AFP/File)

There may be a Cold War-like chill in Congress these days with recent Russian interventions into Crimea and Syria, but in a place where cold -- very cold -- temperatures is the norm, U.S. and Russian relations appear far warmer. The Defense Department's senior oceanographer and navigator told two subcommittees of the House Foreign Affairs Committee on Tuesday that Russia has been open with the U.S. on its activities in the Arctic and has shown no intention of encroaching on areas of U.S. sovereignty. "I can give you the Navy and the Department of Defense perspective on" Russian activities in the Arctic, Rear Adm. Timothy C. Gallaudet told lawmakers. While the Navy does keep an eye on the Greenland, Iceland and U.K. gap -- long a route used by Russian submarines -- he said, "We also see that Russia has not made any attempts to violate our territorial seas." The Russians have remained in compliance with Bering Strait maritime boundaries established in 1990, he said. Gallaudet told the joint hearing of Western Hemisphere Subcommittee and the Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats Subcommittee that during a visit earlier this month to St. Petersburg, the Russian navy opened up its own maps of the Arctic seafloor and officials detailed development plans for Russia's own sovereign areas. "The Russians were very, very open about their intentions in the Arctic," he said. "They intend to develop it economically [and] their security, their growth in there, their military is designed primarily for that -- to provide security for that economic growth on the northern sea route. "We were quite amazed that they were so forthright and open in sharing hydrographic data with us and encouraging cooperation," he added. "They basically see the Arctic as the one region the rest of the world might work with them on, in view of their aggression in Crimea." Retired Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, now the U.S. Special Representative for the Arctic -- an appointment by the State Department -- told the joint panel that Russia has a longer history in the Arctic and are "much more connected to the Arctic than we are. "Russia has half the coast line around the Arctic Ocean, so it's understandable when they have a larger population than us and the waterway is open more than ours has been for centuries, that they're going to have more activity up there," he added. "So they're doing legitimate things … they should be doing as an Arctic nation and preparing for increased human activities." The U.S. should be doing the same, Papp said. --Bryant Jordan can be reached at bryant.jordan@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @bryantjordan.

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