(Reuters) - The United States plans to name an ambassador at large for the Arctic, reflecting the region's growing strategic and commercial importance as its shrinking opens up new sea lanes and vast oil and mineral resources.
Russia has reopened hundreds of Soviet-era military sites in the region, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Friday, a day after visiting the Arctic, saying Russian capabilities there pose a strategic challenge to the 30-nation alliance.
Russia's Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, which Moscow calls a "special military operation," has heightened Western concerns about Russian ambitions around the world.
China, which describes itself as a "near-Arctic" state, also has ambitions in the region and has said it intended to build a "Polar Silk Road." China has its eye on mineral resources and new shipping routes as ice caps recede with rising temperatures.
In a statement on Friday, the U.S. State Department said President Joe Biden planned elevate the area's importance within the U.S. government by nominating an ambassador-at-large for the Arctic region, subject to the Senate's advise and consent.
It did not say who would be nominated.
"An Arctic region that is peaceful, stable, prosperous, and cooperative is of critical strategic importance to the United States," the Department said.
"As one of eight Arctic nations, the United States has long been committed to protecting our national security and economic interests in the region, combating climate change, fostering sustainable development and investment, and promoting cooperation with Arctic States, Allies, and partners," it said.
The eight Arctic nations are Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Russia and the United States.
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed in Saint Paul, Minn.; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)