Russia stakes claim on Arctic with high-tech army outpost

Moscow, Apr 7: Missile launchers ply icy roads and air defence systems point menacingly into the sky at this Arctic military outpost, a key vantage point for Russia to project its power over the resource rich polar region. The base, dubbed Severny Klever (Northern Clover) for its trefoil shape, is painted in the white, blue and red colours of the Russian national flag. It has been designed so soldiers can reach all of its sprawling facilities without venturing outdoors — a useful precaution in an area where temperatures often plunge to minus 50 Celsius during the winter, and even in the short Arctic summer are often freezing at night.
It’s strategically located on Kotelny Island, between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on the Arctic shipping route, and permanently houses up to 250 military personnel responsible for maintaining air and sea surveillance facilities and coastal defences like antiship missiles. When the first men were deployed to the site, they were confronted by polar bears curious about their new neighbours, said Yevgeny Kaziyev, commander of the locally-deployed Bastion coastal defence battery. “Once we were settled, they retreated from the base and don’t bother us,” he said.
The Russian base has enough supplies to remain fully autonomous for more than a year. “Our task is to monitor the airspace and the northern sea route,” said base commander Lt Col Vladimir Pasechnik. “We have all we need for our service and comfortable living.” The futuristic army complex is equipped with a gym and year-round hot water serves the needs of Russia’s Arctic troops.
Russia is not alone in trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, as shrinking polar ice opens fresh opportunities for resource exploration and new shipping lanes. The US, Canada, Denmark and Norway are jostling for position, as well, and China also has shown an increasing interest in the polar region. But while US President Trump’s administration has seen the Arctic through the lens of security and economic competition with Russia and China, it has yet to demonstrate that the region is a significant priority in its overall foreign policy. The post of special US representative for the Arctic has remained vacant since Trump assumed office. Russia, however, has made reaffirming its presence in the Arctic a top goal because the region is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion. The move has alarmed Russia’s neighbours, analysts say. “In Russia, the Northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development,” said Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies.