Russia stages fresh military drills in the Arctic

A submarine during a Russian naval exercise in the Arctic near Alexandra Island on March 27, 2021.
A submarine during a Russian naval exercise in the Arctic near Alexandra Island on March 27, 2021.PHOTO: AFP/SATELLITE IMAGE ©2021 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES

MOSCOW (AFP) - Russia held fresh military exercises on Tuesday (March 30) in the Arctic, a territory of growing importance for Moscow as it vies for regional dominance with rivals including the United States.

Tensions between the West and Russia have led both sides to beef up their militaries in the remote High North, an area believed to be rich in natural resources and where melting ice has opened up new shipping routes.

The Russian military on March 20 launched massive Arctic manoeuvres near Alexandra Land, part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, that are expected to include more than 40 separate drills.

On Monday, the defence ministry announced the beginning of command exercises by the Northern Fleet that would continue over "several days".

The exercises include tests of Pantsir-S1 anti-aircraft systems, in-flight refuelling of a MiG-31 fighter jet and jamming the controls of drones simulating an attack.

Last Friday, the drills saw three nuclear-powered submarines break ice and surface simultaneously and also featured a nuclear submarine firing a torpedo from beneath the ice.

President Vladimir Putin praised the Arctic exercises last Friday, saying the Russian military had proven its ability to operate even "in harsh northern environments".

Retired Russian admiral Viktor Kravchenko told the Interfax news agency that the exercises were to send a "signal to our foreign friends - the Americans".

Mr Kravchenko said last week that drills would remind the US it has competition in the region and to show that Russia has "been here for a long time".

Russia is one of five Arctic nations staking their claims in the region, and Moscow has beefed up its military presence there, reopening and modernising several bases and airfields abandoned since the end of the Soviet era.

Moscow has built a military base on the remote Kotelny Island, part of the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Arctic, and there are other installations including on the Franz Joseph Land archipelago.

Russia has also deployed its state-of-the-art S-400 air defence systems there.

The US in February sent strategic bombers to train in Norway as part of Western efforts to bolster its military presence in the region.

For the first time since the 1980s, the US Navy deployed an aircraft carrier in the Norwegian Sea in 2018, and then several other vessels in Russia's economic zone in the Barents Sea the following year.