- Title: Putin's Russia in biggest Arctic military push since Soviet fall
- Date: 30th January 2017
- Summary: MOSCOW, RUSSIA (RECENT) (REUTERS) (SOUNDBITE) (Russian) EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, HOMELAND ARSENAL MAGAZINE, VIKTOR MURAKHOVSKIY, SAYING: "Due to global warming, the Northern Sea Route will become passable without icebreakers throughout the year. And it is the shortest path from China and Japan as well as other major Asian economies into Europe. So Russia is rebuilding it both in terms of air and maritime navigation as well as military security".
- Embargoed: 13th February 2017 11:49
- Keywords: Russiam Arctic Vladimir Putin Northern Sea Route fleet navy
- Location: MOSCOW AND MURMANSK REGION AND UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, RUSSIA AND AT SEA
- City: MOSCOW AND MURMANSK REGION AND UNIDENTIFIED LOCATION, RUSSIA AND AT SEA
- Country: Russia
- Topics: Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA008619V13B
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: Russia is fortifying Arctic, pouring in money and missiles, building new generation of nuclear icebreakers, opening new bases in the biggest Arctic military push since the fall of the Soviet Union.
The USSR played a great game in Arctic staging posts for long-range bombers and building radar stations across the region.
The country was getting ready to wage nuclear war with the United States and the Arctic islands and their icy runways were to fly missions to America.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia is following in some of the Soviet Union's Arctic footsteps.
The country is building a new series of nuclear icebreakers, part of a sweeping military and commercial push to firm its hand in the High North.
"If (you compare to) the Soviet period, we haven't reached that level of presence (in the Arctic) yet. If you compare to what was absent just 10-15 years ago, the growth is very fast, unprecedented as some media call it. But in my opinion the reason for it is Russia's strategic goal which is determined not by military tasks, but by securing maritime traffic along the Northern route," military expert and editor-in-chief of "Homeland Arsenal Magazine" Viktor Murakhovskiy told Reuters.
Moscow is rushing to re-open a chain of abandoned Soviet military, air and radar bases on remote Arctic islands and to build new ones, as it pushes ahead with a long-standing territorial claim to almost half a million square miles of the Arctic thought to contain extensive oil and gas reserves.
Low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over Moscow's actions in Ukraine mean ambitious new offshore Arctic oil and gas projects have been mothballed for now, but the Kremlin is playing a longer game.
It is building three new nuclear icebreakers, including the world's largest, to bolster Russia's existing fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, which Moscow uses to clear channels for military and civilian ships.
Russia's Northern Fleet, based near Murmansk in the Kola Bay's icy waters, is also due to get its own icebreaker, its first, and two ice-capable corvettes armed with cruise missiles.
The military build-up, which mirrors similar moves in Crimea, Kaliningrad, and the Russian Far East, is causing jitters in neighbouring countries. And with memories of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea still fresh and strains over Moscow's Syria campaign, NATO is watching closely.
"Our neighbours like the U.S. and Canada may raise eyebrows, let them do it, but I don't think they consider it an "arms race" and will prepare symmetrical answer by deploying their forces, creating Arctic troops, etc", Murakhovskiy said.
Sergei Shoigu, the defence minister and a close Putin ally, is presiding over the re-opening or creation of six military facilities, some of which will be ready by the end of this year.
They include an island base on Alexandra Land which will house 150 troops able to survive autonomously for 18 months.
Moscow's biggest Arctic base, dubbed "Northern Shamrock", is meanwhile taking shape on the remote Kotelny Island. It will be manned by 250 personnel and equipped with air defence missiles.
But despite the growing number of Russia's military personnel in the Arctic, the overall military presence in the region remains low, Murakhovsky said: "If we start counting troops, divisions, airfields, jets, radars, etc., deployed in this vast territory we would see that the amount is very insignificant".
But Russia wants other Arctic nations, principally the United States, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland and Finland to pay attention. The Defence Ministry releases regular pictures of troops training in white military fatigues, wielding assault rifles as they zip along on sleighs pulled by reindeer.
The ministry has boasted that the scale of military construction in the Arctic and across Russia is comparable only to the post-war period when Josef Stalin was in charge.
Soviet-era radar stations and airstrips on four other Arctic islands are being overhauled and powerful ground-to-air missile and anti-ship missile systems have been moved into the region.
Russia hopes that one day, aided by climate change and a new generation of icebreakers, the Northern Sea Route, which runs from Murmansk to the Bering Strait near Alaska, could become a mini Suez Canal, cutting sea transport times from Asia to Europe and netting lucrative transit fees.
"Due to global warming, the Northern Sea Route will become passable without icebreakers throughout the year. And it is the shortest path from China and Japan as well as other major Asian economies into Europe. So Russia is rebuilding it both in terms of air and maritime navigation as well as military security", Murakhovskiy said.
For now though, progress is mixed. While the Northern Sea route's popularity inside Russia is growing, relatively high transit costs and unpredictable ice coverage means it has lost some of its lustre for foreign firms.
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