Sullivan: Russian moves highlight Arctic concerns

JUNEAU, Alaska - U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said the Russians are looking to militarize the Arctic, making it all the more important for the U.S. to have a broad Arctic strategy that includes having sufficient troops based in Alaska.

Sullivan said Monday that's why he has been critical of proposed troop reductions in Alaska as part of a cost-saving plan announced by the Army this summer.

His office said Sullivan got included in the Senate version of a defense spending bill a provision to require the U.S. secretary of defense to detail a military strategy for the Arctic. Differences between House and Senate versions have to be resolved.

Russia recently resubmitted to the United Nations a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic. Russia made the claim under provisions of the Law of the Sea Treaty, which the U.S. has not ratified.

Sullivan does not support ratification, citing concerns that the treaty could result in the UN imposing taxes on U.S. entities. Alaska's senior U.S. senator, Lisa Murkowski, last week told reporters she strongly supported ratification and said the U.S. cannot assert its own claims or object to claims by others if it has not ratified the treaty.

"It puts us at a disadvantage," she said. Asked if there were possible workarounds, she said that was something that should be reviewed and explored.

Both Murkowski and Sullivan are Republicans.

Monday's news conference, held to discuss Sullivan's first months in office, featured a wide range of topics, including veterans' health care and President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the state. Sullivan was sworn in in January, after defeating Democratic Sen. Mark Begich during a hotly contested race last year.

Sullivan plans to hold two listening sessions next Monday to hear from veterans and others who have concerns with the health care provided through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs, of which Sullivan is a member, plans a field hearing in Eagle River on Aug. 25.

Veterans have expressed frustrations with the VA's implementation of a national program meant to provide veterans with timelier care closer to home. The national program was modeled in part on the VA's system in Alaska, which relied on partnerships with tribal health care facilities to help provide care. But the move to implement the national program here has raised concerns over such things as a limited number of participating doctors and low reimbursement rates.

Sullivan said he wants to hear plans from VA officials on how to move forward. VA Undersecretary for Health David Shulkin is expected to attend the meetings, Sullivan's office has said.

By:  Becky Bohrer
Source: Associated Press