While all eyes were on St. Petersburg awaiting the reappearance of Putin, a bit far north, 80,000 Russian soldiers were crowding Arctic ice and seas in one of the largest military drills on record. It is a further proof that Russia is getting serious about the Pole.
According to RT, the impressive five-day exercise is aimed to “Arctic pacification and terrorist elimination”. If none of us had before heard of an imminent terrorist threat to the North Pole, it’s probably because we do not have access to the information available to the Russian military intelligence. There is no other explanation.
The general mobilization, ordered by Putin himself but made public by the Defense Minister Dmitri Shoigu, has really stirred the waters of the northern seas. Something like 80,000 men, 220 aircraft, 41 ships and 15 submarines have mocked a war on virtual submarines and battleships. Typical means used by terrorists. An impressive war machine comparable to a middle size national army. Are they really so afraid of the Arctic terrorists?
Russian eyes on the North Pole
The exercise, ended only a few days ago, is the last Moscow move of in the Great North, and yet another proof that Russia is getting serious at the Pole.
Putin himself has never made any secret of pointing to conquer the Arctic ice (altogether with the sea bottom). Not by military means (not yet, at least) but encamping an exclusive right of exploitation. Increasingly, however, these claims go hand in hand to muscle demonstrations and much more concrete moves for the militarization of the Arctic.
A year ago, Putin has given the start to a multi-annual program to restore a number of military bases in the Russian far north. By the end of this year 10 airfields, in disuse since the days of the USSR, will come back in use, bringing the total number of bases in the far north to 14. By the end of 2016 will then be finished the Nagurskoye airfield on the Franz Joseph Land, the northernmost of all. This bas alone is worth an investment of $ 130 million. Meanwhile, in December has been completed the creation of a military super-district, with the entry into operation of the Arctic Command, which controls all the air, land and sea force at the Pole.
“Once again I stress that we are not going to engage in the militarization of the Arctic,” Putin said. “Our actions in the region are measured and reasonably moderate”
The expansionist ambitions in the North date back to 2007, when a robot submarine planted the Russian flag on the seabed of the Pole. “The Arctic belongs to Russia. The North Pole is an extension of the Russian continental shelf,” said the head of mission, Arthur Chilingarov. Since then, the issue has become increasingly serious.
According to scientists, the Arctic ice cap has shrunk by 40 percent over the past twenty years and will disappear within a dozen. Pumping oil and gas where there is now ice is no longer impossible. The Arctic is going to be a tough battleground between Russia and the other Arctic countries, especially the United States and Canada, and Chilingarov is the key man. The polar ice is melting fast and is about to release an immense wealth in terms of gas and oil reserves. Experts estimate that 10-15% of all the oil and even in 30% of all the gas not yet discovered are in the Arctic, making it the biggest reservoir of untapped natural resources. The giant state-owned Gazprom has invested billions of dollars in exploration and exploitation projects. Its flagship, which alone cost $ 6 billion, is the Prirazlomnaja project, the giant offshore platform of Greenpeace affaire.
If someone thinks that the fall of oil price and the economic situation made the Kremlin shelve the project Arctic, these exercises prove it didn’t.