Russia’s Arctic Pivot Is a Massive Military Undertaking

This article originally appeared at Business Insider

Russia knows that the Arctic ice is melting, and Moscow is doing all it can to claim the spoils of the Arctic for its own as the physical and strategic environment changes.

In order to enforce its various claims on Arctic territories, Moscow has stepped up the militarization of its northern coast. This includes the reopening of former Soviet bases, the construction of new ships, and the creation of a new military command, Defense News reports

This buildup is part of Russia’s long game in the region. The Arctic is still too frozen currently for effective shipping or natural resource extraction. But that will change in the coming years. And Russia is trying to ensure that it has the upper hand once the Arctic can be fully exploited. 

“These efforts cannot be explained by any requirements that exist today or will arise in the near future,” writes Anton Lavrov, an analyst at the Moscow-based Center for the Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, according to Defense News. “Russia is not facing any direct military threats from the north. Its military buildup in the Arctic pursues long-term goals rather than any immediate objectives.” 

Russia’s biggest new military development in the Arctic is the creation of the Russian Joint Strategic Command North (JSCN), which is built out of the former Northern Fleet. The command, according to Defense News, has a surface fleet and a submarine fleet of about 40 vessels each, although between 40% and 70% of those ships are currently unusable. 

According to the Polish Institute of International Affairs, the JSCN won’t be an ordinary naval fleet. The command will ultimately feature an air defense division, two Arctic mechanized brigades, a naval infantry brigade, a coastal defense missile system, and the placement of missile regiments in outlying archipelagos in the Arctic Ocean.

As part of the air defense regiment, Moscow is moving a total of nine S-400 Triumph air defense missile systems to the coast. The S-400 is a long-range surface-to-air missile system that can engage a variety of targets, including aircraft, drones, and other missiles. Triumph air defense missile systems can strike at targets up to 250 miles away and at a maximum altitude of 18.6 miles. 

New infrastructure throughout Russia’s remote northern coast will support this military buildup. Formerly abandoned Soviet bases are being reopened and new ports and airstrips will be constructed. Moscow’s current plans envision the opening of ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defense radar stations across its Arctic coast.

Once completed, this construction will “permit the use of larger and more modern bombers,” Mark Galeotti, an NYU professor specializing on Russia, writes for The Moscow Times. “By 2025, the Arctic waters are to be patrolled by a squadron of next-generation stealthy PAK DA bombers.”

The construction of the bases is placing additional pressure on Russia’s neighbors.

One of the new bases is in Alakurtti in the Murmansk region, just 31 miles away from the Finnish border. Murmansk will soon be the location of over 3,000 ground troops, 39 surface ships, and 35 submarines. 

Russia’s drive to militarize the Arctic is in keeping with the country’s new military doctrine, which was signed into law on Dec. 26 last year. The new doctrine explicitly states that NATO’s expansion was the main external threat facing Moscow and that Russia should reinforce three key geopolitical fronts. 

Russia’s focus on the Arctic stems from the unclaimed natural resources under the ice. The US estimates that a possible 15% of the earth’s remaining oil, 30% of its natural gas, and 20% of its liquefied natural gas are stored within the Arctic sea bed.




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