Amid NATO’s buildup along Russia’s borders, including in the Arctic region, Moscow is stepping up efforts to strengthen its northern defense, the Sputnik News information website reported. Now the Arctic’s defense is depending on not only the Navy and Aerospace Defense Forces, but also troops from the ground forces, serving under extremely harsh climactic conditions.
According to Oleg Polevoy, the Russian journalist who had been collecting information about the Russian military in the Arctic, for a long time, “the only infantry unit in the entire Russian North was the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade at Pechenga, Murmansk Region. That unit was established in 1997 on the basis of the old Soviet 131st Motorized Rifle Division…It’s obvious that a single brigade for the defense of territory including the entire Kola Peninsula and Chukotka was, to put it mildly, insufficient, but it’s good that it was least was preserved in the 90s.”
However, today, times have changed, and “the country began to revive”. Russia ensures coastal defense and create a mobile force capable of reacting anywhere in the Russian Arctic.
“In 2012, the creation of a [new] separate Arctic brigade was announced. In 2014, the government signed a corresponding decree. And on January 17, 2015, the 80th Motorized Arctic Brigade (stationed in the locality of Alakurtti on the Kola Peninsula) received its colors,” Oleg Polevoy said.
The journalist pointed out that tasks of the new unit are not easy. They have to operate in extreme climactic conditions and the level of their training must meet the level of the Arctic troops of other countries that “have already set the bar very high”.
For example, the USA have “three ‘Arctic’ brigades in Alaska. Moreover, military tasks in the north can be handled by rapidly deployed special purpose Marines.” The Canadian Army is “reorganizing and reequipping its ranger units responsible for security in the Arctic region,” and has “Joint Task Force 2, an elite special operations unit of the Canadian Forces”, also prepared to conduct tasks in the Arctic.” At the same time, the Norwegian Special Force ‘Rangers’ “have been specially honed for action in the Arctic.” “Recently, Oslo announced the creation of a new unit of special forces practically on the border with Russia,” the journalist added.
According to Polevoy, these ‘restless neighbors’ create new demands for the defense of the Russian Arctic. For this reason, the conditions of service and the potential threats Russian Arctic troops face allow us to say that they “perform specialized tasks,” normally given to Special Purpose Military Units (elite Spetsnaz forces).
“Even judging by the publications available in the media, the eye catches the fact that both the 200th and 80th brigades feature non-standard reconnaissance formations, but recon battalions. The troops carry out airborne and mountain (alpine) training. The material provisions for Arctic brigades are also special; new two-tiered tractors, snowmobiles and hovercraft are currently being developed for them,” the journalist said.
Last year, new articulated tracked snow and marsh buggies, military ATVs, quads and snowmobiles were handed over to the Russian Arctic military. “The new equipment and weapons are being ‘run-in’ in combat-like conditions, including via large-scale exercises taking place recently on the Tymyr Peninsula.”
“The protection of the Arctic from the ground will rest not only on the Arctic motorized infantry,” Polevoy stated. “In 2014, the Novosibirsk archipelago was used for training exercises by Russia’s Airborne Forces; 350 troops of the 98th Airborne Division conducted airdrop training, becoming the largest mass landing in the Arctic’s history. And, it seems, setting records was not their only goal. Airborne Forces Commander Vladimir Shamanov stated recently that ‘the establishment of an Arctic Airborne force is only a matter of time.’”
“The Arctic is one of the most economically promising regions in the world. The Arctic Circle holds enormous reserves of hydrocarbons and other minerals; the region also provides the shortest path for transporting goods from the Pacific to the Atlantic oceans. According to the norms of international law, a substantial part of the territory in Arctic waters belongs to Russia, thanks to the large extent of our continental shelf.”