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Russia stakes its hold on the Arctic with military base


By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV


 


SEVERNY KLEVER MILITARY BASE, Russia (AP) — Missile launchers ply icy roads and air defense systems point menacingly into the sky at this Arctic military outpost, a key vantage point for Russia to project its power over the resource-rich polar region.


The base, dubbed Severny Klever (Northern Clover) for its trefoil shape, is painted in the white, blue and red colors of the Russian national flag. It has been designed so soldiers can reach all of its sprawling facilities without venturing outdoors — a useful precaution in an area where temperatures often plunge to minus 50 Celsius (minus 58 Fahrenheit) during the winter, and even in the short Arctic summer are often freezing at night.


It’s strategically located on Kotelny Island, between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on the Arctic shipping route, and permanently houses up to 250 military personnel responsible for maintaining air and sea surveillance facilities and coastal defenses like anti-ship missiles.


The Russian base has enough supplies to remain fully autonomous for more than a year.


“Our task is to monitor the airspace and the northern sea route,” said base commander Lt. Col. Vladimir Pasechnik. “We have all we need for our service and comfortable living.”


Russia is not alone in trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, as shrinking polar ice opens fresh opportunities for resource exploration and new shipping lanes. The United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway are jostling for position, as well, and China also has shown an increasing interest in the polar region.


But while U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has seen the Arctic through the lens of security and economic competition with Russia and China, it has yet to demonstrate that the region is a significant priority in its overall foreign policy. The post of special U.S. representative for the Arctic has remained vacant since Trump assumed office.


Russia, however, has made reaffirming its presence in the Arctic a top goal, not the least because the region is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.


The move has alarmed Russia’s neighbors, analysts say.


“In Russia, the Northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development,” said Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies. “And that’s why there is a need for military capacity in the area. It is likely meant as defensive, but it is being interpreted by the West as offensive.”


Kristian Soeby Kristensen, a researcher at Copenhagen University in Denmark, said the problem of Russian hegemony in the Arctic was most obvious to Norway.


“Norway is a small country, whose next-door neighbor is mighty Russia, which has placed the bulk of its military capacity right next to them,” Soeby Kristensen said. “Norway is extraordinarily worried.”


In 2015, Russia submitted to the United Nations a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic. It claimed 1.2 million square kilometers (over 463,000 square miles) of Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 350 nautical miles (about 650 kilometers) from the shore.


As part of a multi-pronged effort to stake Russia’s claims on the Arctic region, the Kremlin has poured massive resources into modernizing Soviet-era installations there.


The military outpost on Kotelny Island fell into neglect after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, but a massive effort to build a new base began in 2014 and took several years.


A group of reporters brought to the island by the Russian Defense Ministry on Wednesday were shown Bastion anti-ship missile launchers positioned for a drill near the shore and Pantsyr-S1 air defense systems firing shots at a practice target.


The Russian military has kept Western media from visiting its Arctic facilities, so the trip offered a unique opportunity to watch the Russian expansion up close.


A big radar dome looms on a hill overlooking the coast, underlining the base’s main mission of monitoring the strategic area.


In contrast with drab, Soviet-era facilities, the pristine new base features spacious living quarters, a gym and a sauna. Putin’s words about the importance of the Arctic for Russia dot the base’s walls and a symbolic border post sits in a hallway.


Soldiers at the base say they are proud of their mission despite the challenging Arctic environment.


“Proving to myself that I can do it raises my self-esteem,” said one of the soldiers, Sergei Belogov. “Weather is our enemy here, so we need to protect ourselves from it to serve the Motherland.”


Extreme cold and fierce winds often make it hard to venture outside, and even winterized vehicles may have trouble operating when temperatures plunge to extreme lows and even special lubricants freeze.


Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported to Putin in December that the military has rebuilt or expanded numerous facilities across the polar region, revamping runways and deploying air defense assets. He said renovation works were conducted on a long string of Arctic territories.


The expanded infrastructure has allowed the Russian military to restore full radar coverage of the nation’s 22,600-kilometer (14,000-mile) Arctic frontier and deploy fighter jets to protect its airspace.


The military also has undertaken a cleanup effort across the region, working to remove tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Arctic territories, most of it rusty fuel tanks left behind by the Soviet military.


The Russian soldiers share the island with polar bears, arctic foxes and wolves.


Officers said that, soon after the base opened, curious bears regularly prowled near its walls, sometimes even peering into its windows. On some occasions, soldiers had to use a truck to spook away a particularly curious bear wandering nearby.


Soldiers interviewed at the base said they marveled at the area’s wildlife and its majestic Arctic landscapes.


“The nature here is extremely beautiful,” said Navy Lt. Umar Erkenov, who came from southern Russia. “Meeting a polar bear is an experience that fills you with emotions. We have established friendly ties with them from the start. We don’t touch them, they don’t touch us.”


He said he’s missing his wife and daughter, whom he can only see during his leave period once a year, but is proud of his mission.


“Few people do their job under such conditions,” he said. “I feel proud that I’m here with my unit, doing my duty and protecting the Motherland.”


___


Matthew Lee in Washington, D.C. and Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark contributed to this report.


 


MY TAKE:  Leave it to the Associated Press to leave out salient facts!  This is precisely how the AP became Planet Earth’s foremost purveyor of fake news and revised history.


 


Instead of taking advantage of “climate change,” specifically the shrinking of the Arctic Ice Cap along with the general warming of the far north, the Bush (Obama Lite) administration and the Obama administration chose to wring their hands (When in trouble, or in doubt, run in circles; scream and shout!) and promote US participation in useless talks and even more useless non-treaties and agreements designed to pretend to reverse climatic changes, which were supposedly the result of not driving Priuses.  Russia verily leapt at the opportunity to become the prime beneficiary of expanding shipping lanes in the Artic, a direct result of “global warming.”  New ports came into being and old ones were refurbished.


 


President Trump thus far has had slightly more than two years  to catch up with what the Russians essentially have had sixteen years to plan and execute, thanks to the laziness and ineptitude of Bush and Obama.  That the position of US Special Envoy for the Arctic has thus far remained vacant since Trump took office is more likely a function of Democrat-Socialist (Domestic Communist) foot-dragging in Congress than it is indicative of any laxity on the part of the current administration.


 


What are we going to do about it?  We’ve always had a way of catching up to and surpassing the Russians, and we’ll do it again in the Arctic, once we’ve addressed and vanquished the leftist phobia about climate change that seems to paralyze us.  Read my lips:  “Climate change” is cyclical and has been the rule on Planet Earth since forever.  We’re not causing it, nor is there a d*mned thing we can do about it!  So relax and enjoy it!

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