It is a tiny island, just some 500 square meters in size, that was just discovered earlier this year. Sitting just a meter above the ocean, Yaya Island will now be home to Russian forces and part of Russian territory, the result of just one more move to increase a militarily resurgent Russia's claim on the arctic and its vast energy resources potential.
In addition to the annexation of the tiny Yaya Island located in the desolate Laptev Sea, Russia is reactivating Cold War bases and deploying some 6,000 military personnel along the length of its arctic frontier. Additionally, Moscow has ordered a great increase of its federal border guards presence along its vast northern border.
Although 6,000 military personnel may not seem like much, but the majority of these forces will very likely be capable anti-ship, ballistic missile and air defense units that work more as an area denial force than a ground combat one. In addition, the Northern Fleet will be bolstered and more evenly deployed to better insulate Russia's northern territorial claims.
Russia says that its strategic realignment towards the arctic is in response to NATO and especially United States, Canada, Norway and Denmark's renewed interest in it, but really, both sides are primarily interested in the regions potentially massive petroleum and natural gas deposits, said to amount between 17% and 30% of the world's total supply. In addition, basing ballistic missiles at these high latitudes would allow for more rapid and long-ranged attack and could partially take the place of highly expensive ballistic missile nuclear submarine patrols, at least for the 'first strike' mission set. Even theater ballistic and anti-ship missiles could make operating in the arctic zone a dangerous task for NATO ships.
Heavily militarizing the arctic via the deployment of theater anti-access weapons could allow Putin and his pals to literally deny other aircraft and ships access to the area at a moments notice. Although Russia is quick to say that their rapid military buildup in the area is reactionary in nature, it seems quite possible that another territorial grab may be in the works for Russia, one that would surely mean much more to the US and some NATO nations than the Crimean Peninsula. After today's news of Yaya Island becoming a Russian strategic outpost, such a grab seems inevitable. Then again it may have already begun...
Tyler Rogoway is a defense journalist and photographer who maintains the website Foxtrot Alpha for Jalopnik.com You can reach Tyler with story ideas or direct comments regarding this or any other defense topic via the email address Tyler@Jalopnik.com