The Russian Navy’s long-distance cruise in the Subarctic along the Northern Sea Route has become a flagship mission in the region abandoned by the military after the fall of the USSR. Now the once deactivated infrastructure will resume operation.
On Saturday, Russia’s Defense Ministry officially announced return of Russia’s military to the Subarctic region. The statement was made to mark the arrival of a task group of 10 warships and support vessels to the western coast of Kotelny Island in the Novosibirsk (New Siberian Islands) Archipelago.
The task group is headed by Russia’s most powerful battleship and the flagship of the Northern Fleet, cruiser Peter the Great (Pyotr Veliky). The group is accompanied by four nuclear icebreakers facilitating the passage through areas with particularly thick ice.
“For the first time ever, all Russia’s nuclear surface ships – heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great and nuclear icebreakers Yamal, Vaigach, Taimyr and 50 Let Pobedy, were combined to perform a joint task,” Commander Admiral Viktor Chirkov told journalists Friday.
The task group left the port of Severomorsk and has already covered 2,000 nautical miles, crossing the Barents, Kara and Laptev seas.
“We have come, or rather permanently returned, to where we belong, because it is originally Russian land,” said Army General Arkady Bakhin, Russia’s First Defense Minister.
On Saturday Commander Chirkov told reporters that another group of vessels belonging to the hydrographic service of the Northern Fleet has reached the northernmost coast of the Rudolf Island in the Frantz Josef Land Archipelago and landed there. Later, this group of ships is also expected to call on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago.
“The Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation will fully implement the task of permanent military presence in the Arctic to secure the legal access of the country to resources and spaces of this region. This will be a constant presence,” Chirkov said.
For Russia, this is only the beginning of improvement of the entire route of the Northern Sea Route and the adjacent Arctic zone, Bakhin said. Even though the task is immense, Russia has the equipment and trained personnel to attain its goals in the Arctic, he said.
Bakhin said that Temp military airfield on Kotelny Island that was inactive for over 20 years will become operable in October, as An-72 and An-74 cargo planes will land there, bringing instruments and supplies for the reactivated Air Force base. In the near future the airstrip will be modified to be able to receive heavy cargo planes such as Il-76 and An-22 Antey military jumbos. This will speed up reestablishing Russia’s military presence in the Arctic region, as the air connection will be regular, all-weather and all year around.
The Temp military airfield will become the Russian Air Force’s main logistical hub in the region and will be thoroughly modernized, Bakhin said. In the first place this means using special material for the airstrip that will have to withstand most severe conditions and extremely low temperatures of the polar waters.
“We must reestablish Arctic aviation and infrastructure, both on the mainland and the islands,” Bakhin said.
In 2012, the Peter the Great cruiser, with a group of Russia’s Northern Fleet battleships, visited these waters and performed its first beach landing on Kotelny Island.