Russia strengthens Arctic grip with Siberian base

Russia strengthens Arctic grip with Siberian base

In the New Siberian Islands, the Northern Clover military base on Kotelny has become one of Russia’s latest strongholds.

The camp, which has an advanced missile defence system and anti-aircraft and shipping missiles, can host 250 personnel and has a year’s supplies in case it is cut off.

Closer to Alaska than to Moscow, the island base overseeing the Laptev and Eastern Siberian seas is one of three new Russian strongholds above the 75th parallel along Russia’s lengthy Arctic coast. Russia says it has built 475 Arctic military sites in the last six years.

Base commander Lieutenant Colonel Vladimir Pasechnik said: “Our task is to monitor the airspace and the northern sea route. We have all we need for our service and comfortable living.”

Russia’s Northern Fleet moved into the base in 2016. The personnel are protected from the Arctic weather and the only standalone building is a tiny Orthodox chapel about 20 metres from the rest of the base.

“Our base performs radar control, monitors the airspace, secures the northern sea route and eliminates damage to the environment,” said Major Vladimir Pasechnik of the Kotelny command.

Melting Arctic ice, largely from burning fossil fuels, has ironically opened up the region to oil and gas drilling. The Arctic is believed to hold up to 25 per cent of the planet’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

Russian President Vladimir Putin estimated that Arctic mineral riches were worth US$30 trillion.

The US, Canada, Denmark, China and Norway are also looking to secure a strategic foothold in the Arctic.

Donald Trump’s White House has failed to match Russian moves into the icy region with the post of special US representative for the Arctic remaining vacant since Trump assumed office in early 2017.

“In Russia, the northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development,” said Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies. “And that’s why there is a need for military capacity in the area. It is likely to be meant as defensive, but it is being interpreted by the west as offensive.”

Kristian Soeby Kristensen of Copenhagen University in Denmark said the challenges of Russian dominance in the Arctic was most acutely felt in Norway.

“Norway is a small country, whose next-door neighbour is mighty Russia, which has placed the bulk of its military capacity right next to them,” the scholar said. “Norway is extraordinarily worried.”

In 2015, Russia submitted a bid to the United Nations for vast Arctic territories. It claimed 1.2 million square km of Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 650km from the shore.

Deployments on Kotelny. Picture credit: Wikimedia

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