Russian nuclear units carried out Arctic exercises in international waters beneath the North Pole over the weekend, Damien Sharkov reports for Newsweek.
The exercise featured the presence of several Borei-class ballistic missile submarines. These subs are among the most technologically advanced and capable of Russia’s current ballistic missile submarine fleet, and they function as a nuclear deterrent.
The timing of the exercise is thought to be a response to NATO’s decisions on Feb. 5 to reinforce its eastern military position along the Russian border.
However, Russia has said that the exercise was instead simply part of the country’s shift towards reinforcing its position within the Arctic.
“In particular we focused on hazard and threat detection, but also on missile launching and navigation manoeuvres, ice reconnaissance, submerging and emerging from ice, using torpedoes to undermine ice and many other issues,” Vadim Serga, captain of Russia’s North Fleet, said in a translation provided by Newsweek.
The increasing integration of nuclear forces into Russian military drills have led Britain’s defence minister on Feb. 6 to voice concern over how Moscow how “lowered the threshold” for the use of nuclear weapons. Russia’s military doctrine allows for the use of nuclear weapons in response to a conventional attack that threatens the state’s existence.
British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon told Reuters that “[t]here is three-fold concern, first that they (the Russians) may have lowered the threshold for use of nuclear. Secondly, they seem to be integrating nuclear with conventional forces in a rather threatening way and … at a time of fiscal pressure they are keeping up their expenditure on modernizing their nuclear forces.”
On Dec. 26 of last year, Putin signed off on a new military doctrine for Russia that emphasised three strategic locations — the Crimean peninsula, Kaliningrad, and the Arctic. This doctrine, which sees NATO as Moscow’s main existential threat, calls for further militarization and modernization of troops based in these three regions.
Russia’s claims to the Arctic are increasingly contentious as countries within the Arctic Council all have rival claims to the Arctic sea bed. The US estimates that upwards of 15% of the earth’s remaining oil, 30% of its natural gas, and 20% of its liquefied natural gas are stored in the sea floor beneath the Arctic.
Russia’s submarine exercises beneath the Arctic come on the heels of a construction blitz across the region. Moscow is constructing ten Arctic search-and-rescue stations, 16 deepwater ports, 13 airfields, and ten air-defence radar stations across its Arctic coast.
In November 2014, Russia announced plans to construct a military reconnaissance drone base only 420 miles away from the Alaska mainland. Moscow has also begun the construction of an Arctic military base of operations 30 miles away from the Finnish border.
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