Satellite Images Show Huge Russian Military Buildup in the Arctic, by Nick Walsh, CNN, April 5, 2021: “Russia is amassing unprecedented military might in the Arctic and testing its newest weapons in a region freshly ice-free due to the climate emergency, in a bid to secure its northern coast and open up a key shipping route from Asia to Europe.”
Walsh uses imagery from Maxar to show the extent of Russian military expansion along the Northern Sea Route (NSR). This is primarily being accomplished by updating Cold War-era bases, deploying advanced existing weapons systems, and testing new ones including the Poseidon 2M39 nuclear stealth torpedo and the Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile.
Russia likely sees the newly open waters of the NSR as a strategic vulnerability as well as providing new economic opportunities for natural resource extraction and commercial shipping. The latter could affect 90 percent of world shipping as “The ‘NSR’ potentially halves the time it currently takes shipping containers to reach Europe from Asia via the Suez Canal.”
Russian attempts to flex their might along the NSR include such gambits as requiring “…any vessel transiting the NSR through international waters to have a Russian pilot onboard to guide the vessel. Russia is also attempting to require foreign vessels to obtain permission before entering the NSR.” These provisions are vigorously disputed by other nations.
One key to Russian expansion along the NSR is their fleet of icebreakers, currently the largest in the world, and one that in January 2022 featured the maiden voyage of the world’s newest and largest icebreaker, the Arktika. A 2017 graphic from the United States Coast Guard shows the extent to which the Russian fleet dwarfs the US.
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