Russia is planning to build an Arctic military research center to further its polar buildup

The Russian Defence Ministry, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, is planning to build a military research and testing center in the Arctic, Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik reported on Friday.

The research center will be used for developing weapons and military logistics designed for the Arctic region, according to Lt. Gen. Igor Makushev, head of the Military-Scientific Committee of the Russian Armed Forces.

“On the orders of the president [Vladimir Putin], and in the framework of the development of the Arctic zone, it is planned to establish in 2017 an Arctic research and testing scientific center with branches in Arkhangelsk, Priozersk and St. Petersburg,” Makushev said.

Over the last decade, there has been a land grab in the Arctic, where global warming is melting polar ice and revealing an abundance of natural resources, including an estimated 22% of the world’s undiscovered oil and gas reserves.

Russia, the US, Canada, Norway, and other nations are all trying to get a piece of it. But the commandant of the US Coast Guard, Adm. Paul Zukunft, warned earlier this month that Russia has the upper hand.

In the last few years, Russia has activated a new Arctic command, four new Arctic brigade combat teams, 14 new operational airfields, 16 deepwater ports, and 40 icebreakers with 11 more in the making. Moscow also unveiled its second Arctic military base in late April.

Russia is saying, “I’m here first, and everyone else, you’re going to be playing catch-up for a generation to catch up to me first,” Zukunft said.

What’s key to accessing the Arctic are icebreakers, which are needed to punch through sudden shifts in ice cover. The US currently has one, the Polar Star, which was built in 1970 and is past its prime.

“The highways of the Arctic are icebreakers,” Republican Sen. Dan Sullivan of Alaska said in January 2017. “Russia has superhighways, and we have dirt roads with potholes.”

Russia has also already developed several armoured vehicles and other systems designed for cold-weather fighting, including a radar-guided-missile system called the SA-15 Gauntlet, the T-72 main battle tank, and the Pantsir-SA artillery system.

Moscow is also developing a cold-weather version of its SA-10 missile system.

In January, the US deployed 300 Marines to Norway to learn about winter warfare. Their arrival coincided with a NATO effort meant to reinforce Norway’s border with Russia.

When the US deployment was announced in October, the Russian government questioned the need for it.

“Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway,” the Russian Embassy in Oslo told Reuters at the time, “we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so … willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?”

In January, a spokeswoman for the Norwegian Ministry of Defence told Reuters that the deployed Marines had nothing to do with Russia.

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