Russia building military bases in the Arctic

Russia's President Vladimir Putin (left) speaking with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on Aug 25, 2015.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin (left) speaking with Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu at the International Aviation and Space Show, in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, on Aug 25, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW • Russia is building or plans to build a series of new Arctic military bases, including on Wrangel Island, Kotelny Island and at Cape Schmidt, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency.

"We are not keeping this a secret - we have practically created a base on the Novosibirsk Islands, the Island of Kotelny. This is a big military base, there was no such (thing) in the Soviet period," it quoted Mr Shoigu as saying yesterday.

Earlier, Russia's defence ministry said it had built a giant military base in the far northern Arctic where 150 soldiers can live autonomously for up to 18 months.

The ministry on Tuesday claimed the building on the large island of Alexandra Land, which is part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, is 97 per cent complete. Named the "Arctic Trefoil", the sprawling structure is coloured red, white and blue like the Russian flag. The base is a permanent structure located on the 80th parallel north and has an area of 14,000 sq m. It can house 150 soldiers and stock enough fuel and food to let them operate there for a year and a half, the ministry said.

The soldiers can move around the base from one building to another without going outside to face winter temperatures which can reach minus 47 deg C. Fuel can be pumped in from tankers.

ASSERTING CLAIM

We are not keeping this a secret - we have practically created a base on the Novosibirsk Islands, the Island of Kotelny.

RUSSIAN DEFENCE MINISTER SERGEI SHOIGU

Franz Josef Land is a chain of islands between the Barents and Kara seas north of Novaya Zemlya archipelago. It has a Russian border post, but the military presence there was withdrawn in the 1990s. It returned last November, when the Northern Fleet dispatched air defence contingents there.

This year, Russia has re-opened a landing strip there equipped for large transport planes in order to deliver building materials.

It is building up its Arctic military infrastructure as part of a recently updated Naval Doctrine, which proclaims the region as a top priority due to its mineral riches and strategic importance. Russia has already built a similar military base called the "Northern Shamrock" on Kotelny island in the East Siberian Sea further south on the 75th parallel.

Russia has increasingly asserted itself as an Arctic nation, this year filing a United Nations claim for a vast swathe of the region including the North Pole, and holding wargames in the area.

The Arctic has become a theatre for rival claims over a sea floor believed to be rich in minerals, oil and gas.

Denmark claimed the North Pole in a proposal submitted last year, although it could be years before the commission formally reviews the research. Canada filed an Arctic seabed claim in 2013 but later withdrew the proposal and is drafting a new one.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 23, 2015, with the headline 'Russia building military bases in the Arctic'. Print Edition | Subscribe