The confrontation between Russia and the West has escalated with the news that the Kremlin has initiated its major military exercise in the Arctic. According to the Associated Press, nearly 40,000 soldiers, 100 aircraft, 41 warships and 15 submarines will carry out five days of military drills in order to make them combat-ready.

Russia's Military Build-Up In The Arctic

The move clearly indicates that the region has long been a strategic interest to Russia. What Russia plans is to build a “self-sufficient” military forces (consisting of Air Force and air defense subunits) that will be based in the territory of the Artic owned by Russia. Additionally, Russia plans to create a new training center in the region.

“The Russian military group in the Arctic will be built up on the mainland and on the islands. This buildup is already in progress. By 2018 there will emerge a self-sufficient group incorporating radio reconnaissance companies, the way it was in the past,” a senior official of Russia’s Defense Ministry told Russia’s state news agency Itar-Tass.

To make a point that Moscow is serious about it, Russia’s military has ordered its paratroopers to begin specialized training in “extremely low temperatures” and perform jumps in Artic conditions. The unit based in the city of Pskov is set to perform over 500 practice jumps using new equipment before its deployment to the Arctic in April.

“Also, soldiers learn how to properly use the new equipment that allows to perform tasks in extremely low temperatures, including enduring staying motionless. Until a possible deployment to the far north and the Arctic they will receive special training, equipped with snowshoes and skis,” Russian Ministry of Defense’s airborne forces spokesman Yevgeny Meshkov told Itar-Tass.

It was reported that the paratroopers will be equipped with Russia-made brand new Arbalet 2 parachute system and will go through around 50 hours of additional training in Russia’s airborne military education unit.

Russia plans to develop robots for the Arctic

Furthermore, the Russians are also planning to develop Arctic rescue robots. According to Itar-Tass, the head of the Russian Navy admiral Victor Chirkov has outlined Moscow’s plans for the development and creation of “Arctic underwater search and rescue robots,” which will be able to withstand icy cold Arctic conditions and temperatures.

“We have formulated our requirements and set the task for manufacturers to create both manned and unmanned underwater vehicles, which can be used to provide search and rescue support with proper effectiveness in the harsh conditions of the Arctic seas,” Chirkov said.

Such robots would save human rescuers from having to conduct missions in Arctic waters with their temperature of deadly 28-29 degrees Fahrenheit. In January, Russia demonstrated a prototype for a robotic biker. The Kremlin has also announced that it is willing to send a drone fleet to the eastern territory of the Arctic region.

All of the mentioned above proves that Russia has great strategic interest in the Arctic. In order to increase its presence in the region, Russia has repeatedly deployed advanced military equipment along its northern coast as well as planned a series of constructions through the region, including military bases, ports and airfields.

“New challenges and threats to military security require the armed forces to further boost their military capabilities. Special attention must be paid to newly created strategic formations in the north,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a statement on Russian television on March 16, according to Reuters. Shoigu added that the Russian President Vladimir Putin personally ordered the drills.

Will the Arctic be the next Crimea?

The questions is: will the Arctic be the next Crimea to Russia?  Well, above all, it is much harder for countries to claim sovereignty over the ocean than over land.

Currently, Russia, the US, Canada, Denmark and Norway have made partial claims over the valuable regions of the Arctic. The US experts estimate that 15% of the earth’s remaining oil, 30% of its natural gas, and 20% of its liquefied natural gas are stored in the Arctic sea bed.

Even though both Canada and Denmark have made great efforts in backing up their claims, over the past decade Russia is the one who has developed the most significant plans for deploying its military forces in the Arctic. In 2012 Denmark created a special military unit to guard its Arctic territories.

The Russian Arctic is a major producer of rare and precious metals as well as important oil and gas fields. The territory contains vast reserves of diamonds, hydrocarbons and other minerals with an estimated value of over $22.4tn.

Therefore, the Kremlin’s announcement in 2008 about its plans to use the Arctic area as a “strategic resource base” now makes sense. However, such plans are not possible without foreign investment, technology and human resources. And due to Russia’s worsened relations with the West, the plans don’t look that promising anymore.

Russia is planning to submit a new claim for the extension of its outer continental shelf to the United Nations in 2015. If the claim is rejected, the Kremlin will further complain that it’s surrounded by Western enemies. If the claim Is accepted, however, which is almost impossible, the West will understandably be concerned over Russia’s expanded borders. One way or another, we’ll keep an eye on it.