Russian military presence expanding in the Arctic region, satellite images show

Additional buildings have been built on Alexandra Land since September 2015.
Additional buildings have been built on Alexandra Land since September 2015. Copyright Euronews - Google Earth via Maxar Technologies
By Matthew Holroyd
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Increased military exercises in the Arctic are part of Moscow’s efforts to expand its presence in the polar region.


Russia is boosting its military efforts in the Arctic Circle in an effort to expand its presence in the polar region.

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently hailed the country's military performance during drills and weapons testing in the Arctic.

The region is reported to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas and Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark, and Norway have all tried to assert jurisdiction over northern areas.

The dramatic decrease of sea ice has opened new opportunities for tapping into resources, as well as opening key shipping lanes from Asia to Europe.

"The Arctic still holds the large share of Russia's strategic submarines, so it contributes to nuclear deterrents," said Katarzyna Zysk, Professor of International Relations at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies.

"Russia also has a very ambitious programme for economic development in the region, [such as] energy resources, polar shipping routes."

Russia's military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities in and around its northernmost territories in recent years, revamping runways and deploying additional surveillance and air defence assets.

Videos shared by the country's Ministry of Defence show missiles being launched into the air, as well as nuclear submarines breaking through the ice.

Meanwhile, as can be seen on satellite images, there has been a build-up of Russian military bases on the country's Arctic coastline, together with underground storage facilities.

Since September 2015, Russia has erected a number of new construction zones and buildings near the Nagurskoye airfield on Alexandra Land, an island part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago, which can be seen in the main image of this article.

And further east on Kotelny Island, Russia has also built settlements and revamped a runway since 2014.

Euronews - Google Earth via Landsat/Copernicus
Settlements and a runway have been revamped on Kotelny Island since December 2014.Euronews - Google Earth via Landsat/Copernicus

The country's foreign ministry has not commented on the developments, but Moscow has long maintained its goals in the Arctic are economic and peaceful.

Zysk told Euronews that the activity in the Arctic is "very concerning" for NATO countries.

"What is going on in the Arctic cannot be seen as detached from what Russia is doing in other regions," she added.

"In recent years, Russia has been willing to use its military force to achieve foreign policy objectives."

US military authorities say they are watching Russia's military activities in the Arctic "very closely".

"Without getting into specific intelligence assessments, obviously we're monitoring it," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told a press briefing on Monday.

"Nobody is interested in seeing the Arctic become militarised."


Zysk added that the US administration of former President Donald Trump was also more active in the Arctic Circle.

Click on the player above to watch the full interview.

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