Russia builds up military presence in the Arctic

Hawaii Intelligence Digest, 31 January 2017, 05:25 hrs, UTC, Post #98.


Accessed on 31 January 2017, 05:25 hrs, UTC.

Reporter:  Andrew Osborn (Reuters).

Please click link to read the full story.


After nearly thirty years of neglect, the Russian Navy is again building nuclear powered icebreakers for both commercial and military purposes in the Arctic. Russia is expanding its military presence in the Arctic as it competes with China, Norway, the United States, and Canada for vital sea routes and potentially valuable oil resources in the extreme northern latitudes.

According to Reuters correspondent Andrew Osborn, Russian military expansion in the arctic will have huge financial and geopolitical ramifications, since these northern latitudes “hold more hydrocarbon reserves than Saudi Arabia, and Russia is putting down a serious military marker.”

Osborn provides this analysis:

“Under President Vladimir Putin, Moscow is rushing to re-open abandoned Soviet military, air and radar bases on remote Arctic islands and to build new ones, as it pushes ahead with a claim to almost half a million square miles of the Arctic.

It regularly releases pictures of its troops training in white fatigues, wielding assault rifles as they zip along on sleighs pulled by reindeer.

The Arctic, the U.S. Geological Survey estimates, holds oil and gas reserves equivalent to 412 billion barrels of oil, about 22 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas.

Low oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over Moscow’s actions in Ukraine mean new offshore Arctic projects have for now been mothballed, but the Kremlin is playing a longer game.

It is building three nuclear icebreakers, including the world’s largest, to bolster its fleet of around 40 breakers, six of which are nuclear. No other country has a nuclear breaker fleet, used 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.”

Despite the military buildup, Grigory Stratiy, the Deputy Governor of the Murmansk Region, tells Reuters that the reopening of arctic military facilities is in response to a “strong interest in (a) sea route from Asian nations” and that “the new icebreakers would allow for year-round navigation in the 2020s.”  It’s interesting to note that at least two of the nuclear powered icebreakers will be armed with missiles.


This is another case of Russian planners thinking long-term when the arctic may be the only safe source of hydrocarbon fuels as the Middle East descends into utter chaos.  With its arctic bases being restored, Russia will be able to protect, monitor, and exploit new sea lanes as climate change forces the ice to recede.  To date, Russia is the only nation to have nuclear powered icebreakers.  In this instance, Russian strategic planners are way ahead of the United States and Canada.

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