Russia Launches Biggest Arctic Military Expansion Since Fall Of USSR

Tyler Durden's picture

In what will likely be interpreted as the latest "test" by the Kremlin to gauge western military preparedness, Reuters reports that Russia has quietly unleashed the biggest military build up targeting the Arctic since the fall of the Soviet Union.  "It is part of a push to firm Moscow's hand in the High North as it vies for dominance with traditional rivals Canada, the United States, and Norway as well as newcomer China." It is also part of the ongoing scramble for resources above the commodity rich arctic circle.

Russian servicemen of the Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participate in a military
drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near Murmansk, Russia January 23, 2017.

As Reuters notes, under Putin, Moscow is scrambling 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.

"History is repeating itself," Vladimir Blinov, a guide on board the icebreaker Lenin, which is named after communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, told a recent tour group. "Back then (in the 1950s) it was the height of the Cold War and the United States was leading in some areas. But we beat the Americans and built the world's first nuclear ship (the Lenin). The situation today is similar."

The expansion has far-reaching financial and geopolitical ramifications: "the Arctic is estimated to hold more hydrocarbon reserves than Saudi Arabia and Moscow is putting down a serious military marker."

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.

Some more details: according to Reuters, Russia 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.

"Under (Soviet leader Mikhail) Gorbachev and (Russian President Boris) Yeltsin, our Arctic border areas were stripped bare," said Professor Pavel Makarevich, a member of the Russian Geographical Society. "Now they are being restored."

The build-up has been noticed in Washington. U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, in a written submission following his confirmation hearing, described Moscow's Arctic moves as "aggressive steps" and pledged to prioritize developing a U.S. strategy, according to Senator Dan Sullivan.

Naturally, Russia's military expansion poses a dilemma for Trump, who wants to repair U.S.-Russia ties and team up with Moscow in Syria rather than get sucked into an Arctic arms race: it is guaranteed that US neocons will be scraming bloody murder unless Trump somehow responds to the US expansion.

The build-up is causing jitters elsewhere. As reported two weeks ago, 300 U.S. Marines landed in Norway this month for a six-month deployment, the first time since World War Two that foreign troops have been allowed to be stationed there. And with memories of Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea still fresh, NATO is watching closely. Six of its members held an exercise in the region in 2015.

Ships moored in the Northern Fleet's Arctic headquarters of Severomorsk, Russia.

Previously, the Soviet military packed more firepower in the Arctic, but it was set up to wage nuclear war with the United States not conventional warfare. Arctic islands were staging posts for long-range bombers to fly to America. But in an era when a slow-motion battle for the Arctic's energy reserves is unfolding, Russia is creating a permanent and nimble conventional military presence with different and sometimes superior capabilities.

Sergei Shoigu, the defense minister, is presiding over the re-opening or creation of six military facilities, some of which will be ready by the year's end. They include an island base on Alexandra Land to house 150 troops able to survive autonomously for 18 months. Called the Arctic Trefoil, officials have said they may deploy military jets there. MiG-31 fighters, designed to shoot down long-range bombers, or the SU-34, a frontline bomber, are seen as suitable.


Moscow's biggest Arctic base, dubbed "Northern Shamrock", is meanwhile taking shape on the remote Kotelny Island, some 2,700 miles east of Moscow. It will be manned by 250 personnel and equipped with air defense missiles. Soviet-era radar stations and airstrips on four other Arctic islands are being overhauled and new ground-to-air missile and anti-ship missile systems have been moved into the region.


Russia is also spending big to winterize military hardware. "The modernization of Arctic forces and of Arctic military infrastructure is taking place at an unprecedented pace not seen even in Soviet times," Mikhail Barabanov, editor-in-chief of Moscow Defense Brief, told Reuters.

Barabanov added that two special Arctic brigades had been set up, something the USSR never had, and that there were plans to form a third as well as special Arctic coastal defense divisions. "Russia's military activity in the Arctic is a bit provocative," said Barabanov. "It could trigger an arms race." Of course, Russia's military activity could be simply seen as a preemptive move to western expansion in the region, as telegraphed by the recent build up of NATO forces in Eastern Europe.

* * *

Meanwhile, Russians are delighted by this latest "arms race."

In Murmansk, home to Russia's icebreakers and just an hour from the Northern Fleet's headquarters, the prospect of an Arctic renaissance is a source of pride. The city is steeped in Arctic and military history. The conning tower of the Kursk submarine, which sunk in 2000 after an explosion, looks down from a hill above the port. And in central Murmansk, scale models of dozens of icebreakers crowd the halls of the Murmansk Shipping Company, while sailors, wrapped in great coats, barrel along its streets.

For Russia, the issue of militarizing the Arctic boils down to a simple equation: we have to do it before others do.

"These Arctic bases are on our territory. Unlike some other countries we are not building them overseas," said Denis Moiseev, a member of the Russian Geographical Society. "Other countries are also very active in trying to push their borders towards the North Pole. Our army must be able to operate on all our territory in extreme conditions."


One country regularly mentioned as an unlikely Arctic rival is China, a close Moscow ally, which has observer status on the Arctic Council, the main forum for coordinating cooperation in the region, and is starting to build its own icebreakers.


Politicians are keener to discuss a commercial Arctic push. New roads and a railway are being built and ports overhauled as Moscow expands its freight capacity and, amid warmer climate cycles, readies for more traffic along its Arctic coast. It hopes 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. But while the route's popularity inside Russia is growing, relatively high transit costs and unpredictable ice coverage means it has lost some of its luster for foreign firms.

Grigory Stratiy, deputy governor of the Murmansk Region, told Reuters there was strong interest in sea route from Asian nations however and that new icebreakers would allow for year-round navigation in the 2020s. "Whatever the weather, the Northern Sea Route will be needed. Its use will definitely grow," said Stratiy, who said Russia was keen to attract foreign investment to the Arctic.

When asked about his country's military build-up, he smiled. "There's no reason to be afraid I can reassure you," he said, saying it was driven only by a need to modernize.

"Russia has never had any aggressive aims and won't have them. We are very friendly people."

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froze25's picture

Antarctica is where the real action is. Just ask John Kerry.

silverer's picture

Thanks for your post. In addition...

Climate change is controlled primarily by cyclical eccentricities in Earth's rotation and orbit, as well as variations in the sun's energy output.

"Greenhouse gases" in Earth's atmosphere also influence Earth's temperature, but in a much smaller way. Human additions to total greenhouse gases play a still smaller role, contributing about 0.2% - 0.3% to Earth's greenhouse effect.

Read the article here:

The Saint's picture
The Saint (not verified) silverer Jan 30, 2017 12:42 PM

If they are expecting Globul Warming to melt some of the ice up there they would probably be wrong.  It appears a cooling Sun will bring on a mini-ice age leading to much much more ice in the Arctic in the coming decades.

So, don't get too excited about this.

Of course, if this volcano goes off, it could even get a lot colder for those who live through it.


OfAllElaboratePlans's picture
OfAllElaboratePlans (not verified) The Saint Jan 30, 2017 12:54 PM

That reindeer pooty keeps you warm at night.

John Kerry-Heinz's picture

"Russia has never had any aggressive aims and won't have them. We are very friendly people."

Until you FUK with our Supply of Vodka.

I dig those crazy Russians, they know their history.  Unlike the Americano's here who can't remember what occurred one month ago. 


Progressive = All things old are worthless.   This includes old people, old mechanical methods, 20th century warfare tactics, nuclear family, morality, religous beliefs, strong white males, coal, heating your home with wood, butchering and canning your own food, good will towards mankind, it goes on and on and on........



GraveDancer's picture

Book> The Road to World War III: Can the Dark forces of anti-Freedom trump Humanity?


Notveryamused's picture

Putin trying to stay one step ahead of Trump in a nice way.

Trump is thinking, if we get involved in the ME again, let's make sure we take some oil. With that line of thinking, Putin knows he will soon set his eyes on the oil up north. So Russia's optimal move now is to maximise and secure their claim before Trump mounts an effective US counter-claim and while he is bogged down finding a ME solution.

HopefulCynical's picture

Do you think Putin's worried about Trump, or the vestiges of the Obongoloids?

Notveryamused's picture

He's worried about Trump regards Arctic. The Obongoloids were playing a geo-political power and expansion game with little consideration to U.S lives and financial cost.

The Arctic was fairly low on the oligarchs list because they assumed they would eventually beat/marginalise Russia via Ukraine, sanctions and an expensive ME proxy war with the ultimate goal of controlling the ME. (If Russia had no ME presence and were isolated, a larger Arctic claim, expensive to maintain in the short term, would be of little value or consolation.)

Trump wants to make America wealthy again and by securing a large arctic slice he can significantly increase U.S. wealth with a very low cost financially and militarily so Putin knows it will be very high on his list when he gets his ducks in a row.

Also as Trump will not be putting Putin under pressure militarily in Ukraine and Syria or via sanctions, Putin knows he has the resources going forward to do so.

shovelhead's picture

How, exactly, do you "take" the oil? Do you hold a gun to the head of the leaseholders and the drillers, many of whom are multi-national partners including the US?

Please explain this process as I've been hearing about "Stealing Oil" for 20 years and except for ISIS flat out shooting people, have yet to see this explained.

BarkingCat's picture

You're back with this shit again??

shovelhead's picture

Spammers get me to go and leave horrible book reviews.

It's easy and it's fun.

man of Wool's picture

Its GLOBAL warming not USA warming FFS

shovelhead's picture

Yes dear, of course it is.

wildbad's picture

Hey, where can we get one a those Doomsday machines?

CheapBastard's picture

Send McShame and his pillow talk buddy Graham up to the frost to investigate.

Raffie's picture


The Russians are going to corner the Snow Cone Market.

Bavarian's picture

Russia is there as well. 

FubarNation's picture

Wish they'd hit the South Pole and find those sercret Nazi bases.

HenryKissingerChurchill's picture

Wish they'd hit the South Pole and find those sercret Nazi bases.

no Oil in Neuschwabenland

they do not need oil there anyway!

dogismycopilot's picture

Norwegians going to take it in the poop shute. 

Consuelo's picture





Do I have to be the first...?



OregonGrown's picture

"part of the ongoing scramble for resources above the commodity rich arctic circle."


Commodities???  Since when was buried ancient UFO technology considered a commodity?

Bam_Man's picture

"All your iceberg are belong to us."

KJWqonfo7's picture

It's like Red Dawn all over again!!!



toejam's picture

Geez, I wonder how fast Canada can tow their submarines up there?

Bay of Pigs's picture

I thought their only sub caught on fire a few years ago?

toejam's picture

Canada has four.


The documents show that the first submarine, HMCS Victoria, is scheduled to reach its end of service life in 2022. The other three vessels will follow until the last, HMCS Windsor, retires in 2027.

The documents, released to The Canadian Press through the Access to Information Act, peg the cost of extending the lives of the submarines at between $1.5 billion and $3 billion, depending on how long the vessels would remain in service and what technical upgrades would be made. They don’t specify when a decision needs to be made, but work needs to begin by 2020 to prevent a gap.

Military officials have recently praised the submarines. Royal Canadian Navy commander Vice-Admiral Ron Lloyd described the vessels in June as “essential” to the navy’s ability to protect the country and help NATO, an assessment that was echoed by defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance.

“As Canadians, I think we want to know who’s operating on, above and below our water from a sovereignty perspective,” Lloyd said. “The one strategic asset that allows you to understand what’s operating below the water is a submarine. Nothing else can replace that.”

But any investment is likely to stoke controversy. The submarines have been plagued by technical problems since they were bought used from the United Kingdom in 1998 for what the Chrétien government described as a bargain at $750 million.

While naval officials say they have managed to fix many of the problems and have started using the submarines in earnest, two were docked early this year over concerns about shoddy welding that prevented them from diving. Another had to be repaired after breaking down en route to a training exercise in Norway in June.

BarkingCat's picture

Ah that famous English workmanship. /sarc



shovelhead's picture

Canadian Cash for Clunkers Program.

land_of_the_few's picture

USS Zumwalt and HMS Duncan can take turns towing Blighty's finest leftover subs, and air cover provided by HMS Ark Royal and its F-35s escorted by a squadron of Littoral Combat Ships. Land invasion will be by Abrams MBTs from Poland with some Ukrainian BTR-80s just as soon as they can truck them over to Pep Boys and back into the ships.

HowdyDoody's picture

You know, it might just work - the Russians could laugh themselves to death.

SoDamnMad's picture

Drilling in the artic north is a bitch.  Exxon-Mobil and a few others have the know how. I wonder who will sell their soul to help the Russians. 

Same with companies like Schlumberger.

shovelhead's picture

Money doesn't have a soul. There's making it and not making it. That's it.

kommissar's picture

schlum is a french run cluster fuck.  i wouldn't fret over them.  you wouldn't believe what a mess they are internally.

orangegeek's picture

Russians are going to do what the US is going to do - land in the Arctic and take the oil from Canada.


Canada has a little french faggot running the country - he'll just wet himself.

HowdyDoody's picture

The Polar route is a well known route for nukes. Russia is also preparing to improve its detection for the pending US nuke first strike. That may happen anytime after the 'missile defense' sites in Poland and Romania are upgraded to nuclear status.

Bill of Rights's picture
To all you liberals outraged at Trump banning refugees: Where the fuck were you when Obama was dropping bombs on their homelands?
silverer's picture

And Obama executing US citizens without due process? You know the libs will always side with "their team", no matter what they do. They still would vote for Hillary if she machine-gunned a busload of third graders. "Well, you know how it is.", they would say on CNN, "Everybody has a bad day once in a while". And all the Hillary supporters would nod their heads in agreement.

HowdyDoody's picture

Unfortunately, the US is still bombing and droning, and soon it will be Trump's problem.