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VIDEO: Is Russia overturning the global order? Maybe. It’s complicated.

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By Andrea Rezzonico 

In the third video of its new series on the intersections of climate change and nuclear developments, the Council on Strategic Risks (CSR) posed questions about Russia’s climate, nuclear, and security intersections to four experts with different perspectives. Their responses highlight the range of analysis regarding Russia’s growing influence amidst a changing global order. 

Russia is grappling with higher temperatures, wildfires, collapsing permafrost, and flooding throughout the country, particularly in Siberia. The Arctic is perhaps the world’s paramount example of the geopolitical impacts of climate change, with sea ice melting at unprecedented rates, presenting opportunities that countries such as Russia are actively exploiting. Moscow sees the Northern Sea Route, abundant natural resource extraction potential, and other benefits as burgeoning economic pathways. At the same time, nuclear powered submarines, floating nuclear reactors, and WMD developments present concerns and rising confrontational risks in this new environment. 

All of the experts acknowledged the economic power the melting Arctic will bestow upon Russia, with Pavel Podvig stating that it was Moscow’s principal motivator for developing the region. Dr. Wendin Smith, Anya Fink, and the Hon. Sherri Goodman expressed their unease that the region would be increasingly militarized, and Goodman’s worst case security nightmare centers on an accident in this rapidly evolving frontier. Smith highlighted that risks were heightened in this area due to a reduction in decision making time for US leaders, especially considering technological advancements that enable AI driven platforms. China was also characterized as a rising player to watch in this particular area given its insatiable desire to harness economic and political strength. 

At the same time, the US withdrew from the The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty last year, which leaves only New START ( Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty)  to actively limit US and Russian nuclear weapons deployments — which was set to expire in February 2021.  Note: this video was recorded in the fall of 2020 and New START has recently been extended for another five years.

Some pressures on the preexisting arms control system can be healthy, as Smith and Fink note. Although Podvig believes that Moscow and Washington have yet to arrive at a breaking point, he also predicts that it is going to get worse before it gets better, and a shock to the system will force nations to ask if we are going in the right direction. However, if New START were not to have been extended, it could have been incredibly destabilizing over the long run, with Smith stating that it is the last tangible pathway that ensures policy and technical exchanges between the US and Russia. The experts agree that communication, periodic discussion, and other confidence building measures are critical for the future of arms control, particularly to minimize miscalculation. In order to succeed, experts like Goodman believe that the US must rengage and show its commitment to multilateral treaties and cooperation. 

On the other side of the nuclear development coin, state owned nuclear agency, Rosatom, is increasingly exporting its build-own-operate nuclear reactor model to newcomer countries around the globe – many of which are forecasted to bear the brunt of intense climate impacts. What this means varies greatly across security analysts. Some, like Goodman, acknowledge a deep concern that Moscow’s nuclear safety standards are not as strict as the US’, and although that trajectory cannot be reversed, it will require the US to work even closely with these nuclear newcomers. Others such as Fink note that the spread of technology itself does not pose risks as long as safety is a top priority – stating that the devil is in the details. Perhaps most important to Russia, according to Podvig,  is that Moscow believes it has world class technology, and it because of this, has become an area through which Russica can excel and make a name for itself on the global stage.

For many, including Smith, the growing threat of mis, dis, or mal information with origins in Moscow further complicates the climate, nuclear, security nexus, undermining both regional and global stability. 

See above or click here for the full video.

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