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“It has been absolutely clear for everyone for a long time that this is our territory, this is our land,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference in Moscow 17 May 2021. “We are responsible for ensuring our Arctic coast is safe,” he said. “Let me emphasize once again – this is our land and our waters,” he added. “But when NATO tries to justify its advance into the Arctic, this is probably a slightly different situation and here we have questions for our neighbors like Norway who are trying to justify the need for NATO to come into the Arctic.”

Arctic Strategic Command
Sever (North) Unified Strategic Command (USC)

Map of Russian Military Districts 2015 President Vladimir Putin signed a decree 21 December 2020 equaling the Northern Fleet to a military district from 2021. "To consider the Northern Fleet as a multiservice force strategic territorial association of the Russian Armed Forces performing the tasks of a military district," the decree says. The document was adopted "for the purpose of implementing measures for protecting the integrity and inviolability of the territory" of Russia, it says. The decree entered into force on January 1, 2021.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree 05 June 2020 on the military-administrative division of the Russian Federation, which actually gives the Northern Fleet the status of a military district from January 1, 2021. The document is placed in the database of legal documents. "To establish the following military-administrative division from January 1, 2021 <...> The Northern Fleet is within the administrative borders of the Komi Republic, Arkhangelsk and Murmansk regions, the Nenets Autonomous Okrug," the document says. According to the decree of the President of the Russian Federation of 2010, this is the territory of the Western Military District. The joint strategic command of the Northern Fleet was created at the end of 2014, its basis was the Northern Fleet, withdrawn from the Western Military District. The borders of three more districts - Southern, Central and Eastern, according to the decree, remain unchanged.

The Northern Sea Route northeastern route in the Arctic Ocean for shipping can reduce the distance between Europe and the Far East by one-third, creating an alternative to the Suez Canal. Moreover, the northwestern route in the Arctic Ocean can shorten the distance between Asia and North America by almost 20 percent, creating an alternative to the Panama Canal. Russia may seek to somehow extracat revenue from this cost savings - the Northern Sea Route may become a toll road.

To protect the Northern Sea Route, the government developed special rules for the passage of boats. Foreign warships and ships will now have to notify Russia of their plans in 45 days and be sure to take on board Russian pilots. The passage may be denied, and in case of unauthorized movement along the NSR, as experts say, Russia will be able to apply emergency measures up to the arrest or destruction of the vessel.

In the near future, this transport artery may become the main route of communication between Europe and Asia. From Japanese Yokohama to the Dutch Rotterdam, sailing along it is only 7.3 thousand nautical miles versus 11.2 thousand if the ships went past the shores of Southeast Asia, through the Indian Ocean, Red Sea, Suez Canal, Mediterranean and North Seas . The northern route saves 13 days of travel. It is not surprising that only in 2018 the volume of traffic on it doubled, amounting to 20.2 million tons. According to the forecast of the government, in 2019 the cargo turnover will already be 26 million tons and will only grow. 44 are expected in 2020, and in 2024, already 80 million tons of cargo.

The Russian Ministry of Defense proposed in August 2019 to formally legitimize the status of the Northern Fleet as an independent military administrative unit along with four other military districts. This followed from the draft corresponding decree of the President of the Russian Federation and the explanatory note posted 07 August 2019 on the federal portal of draft regulatory legal acts. In fact, the Northern Fleet became the fifth military district back in 2014, when it was given the status of a separate strategic command “North” in the Arctic zone. The beginning of the work of a separate command based on the Northern Fleet was announced in November 2014 by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"To establish that the main military administrative unit of the Russian Federation is the military district of the Armed forces of the Russian Federation. The Northern Fleet is an independent military administrative unit of the Russian Federation that is not part of the military districts of the Armed forces of the Russian Federation," the draft decree suggests. As noted in the explanatory note, the Northern Fleet is already endowed with the authority of an interspecific strategic territorial association, but the new decree will allow "to legally give the Northern Fleet the status of an independent military administrative territorial unit." It also, as conceived by the authors of the draft decree, will improve the interaction of the fleet with various authorities, other troops and military units in solving problems in the Arctic strategic direction.

A new Joint Strategic Command, dubbed North, on 01 December 2015 became operational in the Russian Arctic on the basis of the Northern Fleet. The new command, which will be named as a fifth Russian military district, is aimed at protecting Russian interests in the Arctic region. The Russian Northern Fleet was detached from the Western Military District by December 1 to become the main striking force of the Sever (North) Unified Strategic Command (USC), which is under formation in Russia with the aim of protecting the country’s interests in the Arctic.

In April 2014, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia would build a unified network of military facilities on its Arctic territories to host troops, advanced warships and aircraft as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region. Over the past few years, Russia had been pressing ahead with efforts aimed at the development of its Arctic territories, including hydrocarbon production and development of the Northern Sea Route, which is gaining importance as an alternative to traditional routes from Europe to Asia.

The command started taking under its control various formations, military units and vessels that were earlier part of the Western, Central and Southern military districts, and this process was due to last for two or three weeks. The force groupings of the new command were formed on Russia’s insular territories in the Arctic, including the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago, the New Siberian Islands, the Wrangel Island and also Cape Schmidt.

In April 2017 it was reported that the 14th Army Corps had been formed in the Northern Fleet/Arctic Joint Strategic Command.[15] It appears that this army corps, formed with its number in view of the World War II actions of the Soviet 14th Army, includes the 80th Motor Rifle Brigade (Arctic) and the 200th Motor Rifle Brigade.

Some Russian voices have called the situation in the Arctic a "cold peace" vis-a-vis NATO and the US. In April 2008, Russian Navy head Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky said, "While in the Arctic there is peace and stability, however, one cannot exclude that in the future there will be a redistribution of power, up to armed intervention." His statements preceded the July 2008 deployment of Russian Northern Fleet missile cruiser "Marshall Ustinov" and anti-submarine ships off the coast of Spitsbergen to coincide with fishing season, and the Russian submarine "Ryazan's" September 2008 underwater transit of the Arctic ice sheet, a first since the end of the Cold War.

State Duma Deputy Chilingarov called for Russia to withdraw from the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) so that Russia could stake a greater claim to the region's sea bed (a claim he tried to bolster when he planted a Russian flag below the North Pole in August 2007).

On 27 March 2009, President Medvedev approved Russia's long-delayed Arctic policy - "Foundations of the Russian Federation National Policy in the Arctic Until 2020 and Beyond". The policy presented the four fundamental national interests of the GOR in the Arctic: its use as a strategic resource base, the preservation of peace and cooperation in the Arctic, the protection of the region's unique ecology, and the establishment of the Northern Sea Route as "exclusive" to Russia.

It defined the region as Russia's strategic energy reserve, called for its promotion as a transportation corridor, and sought to balance cooperation with the country's security needs. The policy itself reflected competing voices within the government, with security officials emphasizing the deployment of Federal Security Service (FSB) forces and the Russian Foreign Ministry calling for cooperation (although Russia remained universally allergic to NATO's presence in the region).

The oil-and-gas rich Arctic shelf is the primary reason why the United States wants to destabilize Russia. Hoping to get its hands on the entire Arctic, Washington wants to bring regime change in Russia, said Bruce Gagnon, the coordinator from Global Network against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, Iranian Press TV reported. "They hope to be able to create chaos inside… and having regime change in Moscow. That's the bottom line. That's the goal that the United States wants to produce."

Formed in 2014, the Joint Strategic Command was initially said to be not a military district, but acted very much like one. The Joint Strategic Command, which was formed in the Russian Arctic on the basis of the North Fleet, was reinforced with manpower and hardware from the Western, Central and Eastern Military Districts stationed in circumpolar areas.

Russia was also in the process of unsealing at least seven airstrips that were shut down following the collapse of the Soviet Union, with Tiksi in Yakutia expected to house the bulk of the Arctic air force. Work also began in September 2014 on a permanent base located on the New Siberian Islands in the Laptev Sea. A military group consisting of two brigades will be stationed in the far North as part of the new military district.

The Arctic has attracted an increasingly intense gaze from the powerful nations that border it in the past decade, not least because it is thought to contain up to 30 percent of the world’s oil and gas. As technologies have advanced, more and more of those hydrocarbons have become recoverable and viable. The stretch of sea can also provide new shipping lanes for goods traveling between Asia and America and Europe.

Moscow announced its intentions to create a special force grouping in the strategic region in December 2013, with Vladimir Putin saying that Russia needs to activate “all the levers for the protection of its security and national interests” in the “promising region.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in 2014 that a new strategic command would begin its operations in the Arctic on December 1, 2014, on the basis of the North Fleet. "The new joint strategic command in the Arctic zone is due to begin operating on the North Fleet basis as of December 1 this year," Putin said at a meeting focused on defense industry issues on 24 November 2014.

A multi-service force is being created to protect Russia's national interests in the Arctic. The combined arms element of the force will incorporate two Arctic motorized infantry brigades, Ground Forces Commander Col. Gen. Oleg Salyukov told reporters on 01 October 2014. "A separate [Arctic] motorized infantry brigade has almost been formed in the Murmansk region. The second Arctic brigade will be formed in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region during the year 2016," Salyukov said.

The brigades will accomplish coast patrolling missions, protect sites and territories on the coast of the northern seas and the Arctic Ocean, support and escort ships sailing along the Northern Sea Route, and demonstrate the military presence in the Arctic, he said. "The Arctic formations will be equipped with off-highway vehicles: two-section transporters, snowmobiles and hovercraft," Salyukov added. The armaments and special-purpose gear will help the successful accomplishment of missions in northern latitudes, he said. "Combat training will be organized with due account of climatic conditions," the commander stated.

Russia will have military control of the entirety of its 6,200 km Arctic coastal zone by the end of 2014, just a year after Moscow announced its ambitious plan to build military presence in the region, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu announced 21 October 2014. “We have set quite a pace in our foray into the Arctic,” Shoigu said during a military council meeting in Moscow. “By the end of the year we will already deploy most of our units in the region – from Murmansk to Chukotka.... Many of the sites in the region have to be repaired. In fact, a lot of them, such as airfields, logistics facilities, water intakes, power stations will have to be built from scratch, which is what we are doing right now.”

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Russian units will be deployed along the Arctic belt, from Murmansk to Chukotka, in 2014. "Our coming to the Arctic has been rather active and most units will be deployed along the Arctic belt, practically from Murmansk to Chukotka, already this year," he said.

In addition, the radar field in the Russian Arctic would soon be complete. Three expedition teams were building infrastructure on the Arctic islands. "Thus, we will complete our radar field this year, and in 2015 will be practically ready to meet unwanted guests both from the east and from the north," Shoigu said. Troops successfully practiced a number of Arctic missions this year, the minister continued.

"Military infrastructures continue to develop in the region for defending the interests of the Russian Federation. A North Fleet unit supported by vessels of the Murmansk Shipping Company and Rosatomflot icebreakers carried personnel and hardware of a tactical group to the Kotelny Island [the Novosibirsk archipelago] in the course of the [Vostok 2014] drill," he said.

Part of the air force and air defense units stationed in the North are also affiliated to the Joint Strategic Command in the Arctic. The new command controls a number of airbases for which military airfields are being rapidly built in circumpolar areas, as well as air defense facilities. Western Military District gave the command of the 1st Air Force and Air Defense, with its regular active and passive forces and resources, and infrastructure. Central and Eastern military districts were given, in particular, the 2nd and 3rd Air Force Command and Air Defense, as well as a number of other units and formations" -

Pantsir-S1 missile and artillery systems were put on duty on the Kotelny Island of the Novosibirsk archipelago in 2014. The deployment of intermediate and long-range air defense systems in this area has also been planned. A Pantsir-S1 crew had a live fire practice on the Kotelny Island. Their target launched by a Rubezh mobile coastal missile system was successfully destroyed. A Kinzhal air defense missile system mounted on the destroyer Admiral Levchenko also had a live fire exercise in the Novosibirsk archipelago area. Radar station units and air defense direction posts have almost been put on combat duty on the Wrangel Island and Cape Schmidt.

A tactical airborne team of the 83rd separate air assault brigade of the Airborne Forces and the 155th separate marine brigade of the Pacific Fleet made their first landing on the Wrangel Island.

In turn, Air Force Commander Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said that the Russian Arctic airfield Temp on the Kotelny Island will eventually be customized to receive Ilyushin Il-76 heavy transport aircraft. "We intend to land Il-76 there at some point. We have every reason for doing so," Bondarev said. He also said it was planned to make the airfield, which currently operates for nine months per year, an all-season facility.

The Russian Air Force has placed emphasis on Arctic airfields, Bondarev said. It was developing the Rogachevo airfield on the Novaya Zemlya archipelago and other northern airfields in Vorkuta, Tiksi, Anadyr, Cape Schmidt and elsewhere. These airfields will be restored and aircraft will be stationed there.

A joint air and air defense army will be formed and deployed in the Arctic in 2015, Chief of the Russian General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, said 29 December 2014. "The united strategic command in the Arctic is currently based on Russia's Northern Fleet, which is responsible for ensuring security in the region in all forms of armed conflict," Gerasimov said in an interview with Rossiya-24 television.

"We have already assigned an air defense division to the fleet, and we will form a joint air and air defense army there," the army chief said. The formation of Russia's Air Army in the Arctic is part of the country's strategy to boost its presence in the region.

Under the strategy, Russian Defense Ministry plans to reopen airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago, and at least seven airfields on the continental part of the Arctic Circle.

Russia also revealed its plans to build at least 13 airfields and 10 radar stations in the Arctic to ensure country's military security and to strengthen its political and economic position in the Arctic. Moreover, the country intends to create a unified network of naval facilities in the region for advanced warships and submarines.

In late October 2014, chief of the Russian National Defense Center, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, said Russia plans to build 13 airfields, one aviation training ground and 10 technical radars and air guidance stations in the Arctic region.

Two separate motor rifle brigades will be brought into service of Russian army grouping in the Arctic region in 2015-2016, Chief Commander of Russian Ground Troops Colonel-General Oleg Salyukov told reporters on 01 October 2014.

“A separate motor rifle brigade (in the Arctic region) is about to be formed in the Murmansk region. A second motor rifle brigade will be set up in the course of 2016 in the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Area,” he said. Salyukov recalled that a multi-service army grouping was being created to protect Russian national interests in the Arctic region. The general noted that two Arctic motor rifle brigades that would make part of the military force, would resolve the following tasks: patrolling the offshore zone, protecting facilities and territories along the coasts of northern seas and the Arctic Ocean, ensuring navigation and convoying of ships on the northern sea route and demonstrating military presence in the Arctic. “Arctic formations will be armed with off-road vehicles, including two-section carrier vehicles, snowmobiles, amphibian vessels. Weapons and special outfits will contribute to successful fulfilment of tasks in northern latitudes. Combat training will be provided with due account of climatic conditions,” the chief commander added.

The Joint Strategic Command, which was formed in the Russian Arctic on the basis of the North Fleet, will be reinforced with manpower and hardware from the Western, Central and Eastern Military Districts stationed in circumpolar areas, a source in the Russian Defense Ministry told Interfax-AVN on November 25, 2014.

"Alongside the North Fleet, which currently belongs to the Western Military District, the new Strategic Command will be reinforced with military units from the Central and Eastern Military Districts which are tasked with ensuring security in the Arctic zone," the source said.

Part of the air force and air defense units stationed in the North will also be affiliated to the Joint Strategic Command in the Arctic, he continued. "The new command will control a number of airbases for which military airfields are being rapidly built in circumpolar areas, as well as air defense facilities," the source said.

Pantsir-S1 missile and artillery systems were put on duty on the Kotelny Island of the Novosibirsk archipelago this year, he said. "The deployment of intermediate and long-range air defense systems in this area has also been planned," the source said.

Russia finished building a new jumbo Arctic military base on Kotelny Island, off the eastern Siberian coast. There was no such base there in Soviet times, Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu 20 October 2015. "We are not keeping this a secret: we have practically built a base on the Novosibirsk Islands, the Island of Kotelny," said Shoigu. "This is a big military base, there was no such base there in the Soviet period."

Kotelny is the largest island in the Novosibirsk Archipelago, located in the Laptev Sea. Back in the Soviet days the military deployed an observation post and a radar station there. With the fall of the USSR, all the troops were eventually withdrawn leaving behind only a civilian meteorological station.

After decades of desolation, the former military base was rebuilt. Engineers of the Russian Northern Fleet began construction works in 2013, cleaning up rusty barrels and broken vehicles abandoned on the island, and constructing among other things, a landing strip for supplies to be airlifted rather than air-dropped.

Russian troops will be deployed in the Arctic by 2018, equipped with all the necessary high-tech weaponry, the minister said. A series of smaller bases would also be created on Wrangel Island, on the eastern coast of Chukotka, on the Kuril Islands and at Cape Schmidt. The construction of six airfields will be also finished in 2016-2017.

By 2020 six military bases had been deployed in northern Russia: on the islands of Kotelny (Novosibirsk Islands), Alexandra Land (part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago), Sredny (Severnaya Zemlya), as well as in the village of Rogachevo (Novaya Zemlya), on Cape Schmidt and Wrangel Island (included in the Chukotka Autonomous Region). In addition to them, there are more than a dozen military airdromes, positions of anti-aircraft missile systems and military ports. All this infrastructure works year-round. The bases on Franz Josef Land and Kotelny are sentinels at the "entrance and exit" from the territorial waters of Russia in the Arctic.

In February 2016 Russia submitted evidence to a UN commission that the southern part of the Gakkel Ridge and Podvodnikov Basin, as well a the Lomonosov Ridge, the Mendeleyev Ridge and Chukotka Plateau, are a continuation of the Russian continental shelf, which means the country's borders in the Arctic could expand by 1.2 million square km. The presentation was made by Natural Resources Minister Sergei Donskoi, who said Russia has done a great deal of research and collected exhaustive data proving its rights to expand its borders in the Arctic. More than ten years of work went into preparing the materials.

Donskoi said the UN commission's review of the application could take two to four years. Russia's main rival in delineating boundaries in the Arctic is Denmark, which wants to prove that almost all of the territory that Russia is claiming is part of its continental shelf.

Russia has already succeeded in expanding the borders of its continental shelf. In August 2013, a Russian delegation made a similar presentation to the UN commission of an application to expand the borders of the shelf in the central part of the Sea of Okhotsk by more than 50,000 square km. The commission approved the application a year later. However, the commission made its decision in a more stable political climate and there were no other claimants to this area.

Russian Ministry of Defense intended to construct and reconstruct Arctic ten airfields in order to strengthen Russia's presence in northern latitudes. On 11 July 2016 the newspaper "Izvestia" reported : "In the Arctic Spetsstroy Russia is building military infrastructure on six islands", - quotes the edition of the representative of the Ministry. According to him, in 2016 in the remote military garrisons scheduled to deliver more than 100 tonnes of material resources for more than 150 points -. Lighthouses, islands, military units. "Northern delivery planned in such a way that, first of all by leveraging the period with favorable weather conditions, deliver the goods in the most challenging to deliver and discharge stations", said the source of "Izvestia".

In addition to the material means for the military to ensure that construction in the Arctic will be delivered to more than 190 tons of construction and inert materials. Aerodrome plates, cement, metal, pipes, fittings and equipment. It produced not only in the delivery of the Arctic zone required, but also garbage. Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will continue to place their units in the Arctic until 2020. Currently, military units and garrisons in the Far North, Siberia and the Far East is the development of infrastructure for more than 20 thousand. Soldiers, their families and civilians working at the Ministry of Defense sites.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:30 ZULU