Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russian Navy Returns to Arctic. Permanently

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Russian Navy Returns to Arctic. Permanently

Article excerpt

Russia is returning to the Arctic, nearly a quarter century after virtually abandoning the region in the wake of the Soviet Union's collapse.

The new determination to defend Russia's Arctic stake was symbolized by an impressive naval operation, widely covered in the Russian media, that saw a task force of ten warships and nuclear- powered icebreakers complete a 2,000-mile patrol across the formerly ice-bound coastline. The flotilla was led by the flagship of Russia's northern fleet, the guided-missile cruiser Peter the Great.

The ships arrived at the Novosibirsk (or New Siberian) Islands, near the Lena River delta, last Thursday, Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Arkady Bakhin said. He said the flotilla's mission was part of a larger mission for the development and improvement of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic zone around it.

"We have arrived there or, to be more exact, have returned there to stay because this was originally Russian land," Russian media quoted General Bakhin as saying.

In addition to regular naval patrols, Russia is rebuilding a Soviet airbase on Kotelny Island off the northern coast of eastern Siberia, which will serve as a bridgehead for restoring Russia's presence along the northeastern sea route that President Vladimir Putin has said may become as "important as the Suez Canal" in the coming decades.

Russia has been making substantial investments in its tattered and often rusting military for over a decade now. But the new emphasis on the Arctic is driven largely by global warming. Despite a recent episode of cooling, there has been a massive retreat of the ice sheets which formerly made the region practically impassible to shipping and forbidding to most kinds of economic activity.

The fabled Northeast Passage between the far east and Europe across the top of Russia, which could cut two weeks off voyage times, is rapidly becoming a viable commercial prospect. Previously off limits resources such as oil, gas and fisheries, are opening up for potential exploitation as the ice caps recede.

Russia has staked claims to about 380,000 square miles of internationally-administered Arctic territory arguing in a 2001 UN filing that the Lomonosov Ridge, which constitutes the sea bottom all the way to the North Pole, is actually an extension of Siberia's continental shelf and thus should be considered Russian territory. …

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