Speaking to concerns that a Russian intelligence-gathering vessel was shadowing a Shell Oil ship exploring for oil, Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said, "We aware of the Russian vessel Kurily sailing in the vicinity of the Nobel Discoverer… We recognize the rights of all sovereign nations to freely navigate in international waters." Davis was speaking in an interview on CNN on September 7.
Drillship Nobel Discoverer in Arctic waters
The Russian ship was first spotted on September 6. Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, and the U.S. have been vying to exploit the reserves of natural gas and petroleum that are believed to be under the Arctic Ocean. The Nobel Discoverer has been contracted by Shell Oil to explorer hydrocarbon deposits in the Arctic.
Responding to Russia claims on the area, a State Department official averred that Russia is “reasonable” in its buildup in the Arctic. The U.S. Representative to the Arctic Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr. told journalists on September 4, "I think, at least from what I’ve seen so far, the activities in terms infrastructure development along the North Sea route have been reasonable. Those [are] things that I think any maritime nation should be doing." Since Russia owns roughly half of the Arctic coastline, said Papp, its current activities should be expected. "So it is, in my mind, [it is] reasonable to expect that if you have a maritime route that’s opening — the North Sea route above Russia… the country would be investing in search and rescue stations, improved telecommunications and capabilities for responding to environmental accidents and those such things," he said.
Russian naval vessel Kurilya
Papp is a retired Coast Guard officer. His former branch of service is being called upon to carry out icebreaking and interdiction in the frigid Arctic Sea, which has recently been warming up in the military sense. Papp noted that he hoping that the U.S. will step up its activity on the North Slope of Alaska “in preparation for increased human activity." The U.S. has indicated plans to increase its icebreaker presence in the Arctic.
American and Canadian coast guard icebreakers on binational manoeuvres in the Arctic Sea
Russia has boosted its military presence in the North Sea and the Arctic, while China also recently showed the flag near Alaska. Indeed, while President Barack Obama was on vacation in Alaska last week, a Chinese naval vessel was just 12 nautical miles away at the moment he was offering a photo-op. While Russian President Vladimir Putin has vowed that Russia does not plan to militarize the Arctic, he has said that Russia will take the steps necessary to defend its interests, which include the development of a North Sea route for ships ferrying hydrocarbons that is gaining importance as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia.
Russian nuclear submarine Dmitry Donskoy
As part of its geopolitical muscle-flexing, Russia’s nuclear-powered sub, the Dmitry Donskoy, has entered the White Sea north of Norway, where it will take part in anti-submarine drills. The Akula class beheamoth is touted as the world’s largest submarine. It left its Severodvinsk port on September 4. Accompanying the sub are the anti-submarine ships Onega and Naryan-Mar. The sub is named for Grand Duke of Moscow Dmitry Donskoy, and is 172 meters in length and has a crew of 160 souls. The ship's namesake, who is also known as Dmitry of the Don, ruled as Prince of Moscow and is venerated as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. He is often credited for fighting back a Mongol invasion in the 1400s.