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Russia announces Arctic military drills in further sign of increasing presence

Nagurskoye airfield. (Russian Ministry of Defense/Released)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Russia says it will conduct strategic military drills in the Arctic this autumn, in another sign of the Kremlin’s drive to assert its presence in the region.

The command of Russia’s Northern Fleet announced the “strategic military exercise” on June 1 to check the “readiness of the forces and troops” serving in and around the Arctic.

It added that the exercises will also “ensure the safety” of the Northern Sea Route.

The growing accessibility of natural resources and navigation routes in the Arctic as climate change makes it more accessible has attracted global competition.

As Moscow seeks to assert its influence in the Arctic, military disputes have intensified in recent years, with both Russian and NATO forces carrying out maneuvers to display their ambitions.

At a meeting of Arctic Council foreign ministers in Reykjavik on May 20, Washington gathered support to curb Moscow’s plans as it assumes the council’s rotating chairmanship with an eye toward setting maritime rules in the Northern Sea Route and resuming high-level military talks within the eight-nation bloc after they were suspended in 2014 over Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

Moscow has also bolstered its military presence in recent years, in particular by deploying its S-400 air-defense systems to the region.

As ice cover in the Arctic decreases, Russia is also hoping to gain economic influence and make use of the Northern Sea Route shipping channel to export oil and gas to overseas markets.

Russia has invested heavily to develop the route, which cuts the journey to Asian ports by 15 days compared with using the traditional Suez Canal route.