MOSCOW - From launching the world’s first “combat icebreaker” to training soldiers on how to handle sleds pulled by reindeer, from rebuilding Soviet-era airbases and radar stations to adapting weapon systems and armored vehicles for cold-weather warfare, Russia is bolstering its military presence in the Arctic - and is keen to advertise the fact with war games and test firings of new missiles.
The Kremlin’s growing assertiveness is aimed to position Russia as the dominant power in the Arctic with an eye on untapped offshore oil and gas reserves, which are becoming more accessible because of warming temperatures, retreating polar ice and rising sea-levels, say Western analysts.
After conducting a major military exercise in the region involving 12,000 soldiers, five nuclear submarines, 15 warships, including the nuclear-powered battle cruiser “Pyotr Velikiy,” and 100 aircraft, Russia launched Friday what it dubbed a combat icebreaker from the Admiralty Shipyard in St. Petersburg. The heavily armed icebreaker, the Ivan Papanin, is likely to be equipped with Kalibr cruise missiles as well as a 76.2mm gun and Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter when it enters service by 2023. A second combat icebreaker will be plying the region the following year.
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