Russia has greatly expanded its military base at the top of the world as President Vladimir Putin has laid claim to a vast area of the Arctic.
The remote Nagurskoye airbase in the Franz Josef Land archipelago was originally built in the 1950s as a weather station and communications outpost.
But today it’s a sprawling military facility with its runway extended from 8,200 ft to 11,500 ft – making it capable of hosting any aircraft in the Russian military's current arsenal.
The Russian Ministry of Defense has also announced plans to build special heated hangars there to house MiG-31 Foxhound interceptors or Su-34 Fullback combat jets.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says that Russia is “exploiting” the fact that climate change is opening up new sea routes in the Arctic to exert more control in the region: “Russia is exploiting this change to try to exert control over new spaces,' he said last month. "It is modernising its bases in the Arctic and building new ones.”
Speaking at a briefing with Iceland's foreign minister in Reykjavik, Blinken said Russia’ claims were “inconsistent with international law”.
However Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov dismissed US concerns, saying: “We hear whining about Russia expanding its military activities in the Arctic.
“But everyone knows that it's our territory, our land. We bear responsibility for the Arctic coast to be safe, and everything our country does there is fully legitimate.”
As the ice around the North Pole continues to retreat Moscow has laid claim to the new sea routes that are opening up.
Admiral Alexander Moiseyev, chief of Russia's Northern Fleet, told reporters at a briefing aboard the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great: “The complex ice conditions make it necessary to organise safe shipping, so Russia insists on a special regime of its use.”
But Russia’s claims in the region are more than just Putin flexing his political muscles. Mineral rights in the newly-uncovered region have been valued at somewhere in the region of $30trillion.
China, too, is said to be investigating possible opportunities in the region, following reports that the Arctic could hold up to a quarter of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.
The Arctic is set to be a source of increasingly dangerous international friction.
The US has stationed some of its B-1 nuclear bombers in Norway to bolster NATO’s military presence and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said that an “increased Russian presence, more Russian bases in the High North, has also triggered the need for more NATO presence.
He added that NATO has “increased our presence there with more naval capabilities, presence in the air, and not least, the importance of protecting transatlantic undersea cables transmitting a lot of data”.
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