Russia Prepares For Increased Northern Sea Route Use By Reinstalling Military & Security Divisions In Far East Chukotka
Russia’s Ministry of Defense has begun to create a coastal defense division in Chukotka, the first time this has happened since the Cold War. The coverage area of the new unit will stretch along the Northern Sea Route up to Wrangel Island and will provide safer shipping in the region as the Northern Sea Passage becomes increasingly viable. 2020 saw the highest volume of shipping ever use the route, with this expected to quadruple by 2024. The Passage will only become more popular as a gateway from Asia to Europe – it saves a huge amount of time and expense as an alternative to shipping via Suez. The development will not however sit well with the United States; the distance from Chukotka to Alaska is just 230 miles.
The first attempts to create a ground-based military garrison in Chukotka were at the beginning of the Cold War, with plans to deploy the 14th Army. Ideas were developed for the transfer of troops through the Bering Strait, however although these were abandoned, some infrastructure was built. The region has extreme climatic conditions – however improved technologies and the need to protect shipping have bought the deployment of military personnel back into focus again.
Chukotka’s main Ugolny airfield in Anadyr, has been reconstructed and is now able to receive all types of aircraft and helicopters. These are intended to provide border protection, as well as support more distant garrisons also planned along Russia’s Arctic coastline.
In December 2020, Russia’s Ministry of Defense announced the beginning of permanent combat duty in Anadyr of naval fighter-interceptors MiG-31BM from the air regiment in Kamchatka. For several years now, a subdivision of UAVs with Orlan-10 and Forpost drones has been on duty at Ugolny. They allow monitoring not only the peninsula, but also its coastal waters.
The Chukotka development is essentially an extension northwards for a consolidated detachment of army and air force units that have already been based for the past five years in Kamchatka. That garrison includes Transport Mi-8 and Mi-26 aircraft to help supply units at Cape Schmidt and Wrangel Island, and have been testing the especially Arctic modified Mi-8AMTSh-VA, helicopters, created specifically for operation in the most difficult conditions of the Far North.
Russia has also been actively strengthening its coastal forces. The Marine Corps is being reformed and transformed into a rapid reaction force capable of operating throughout the Arctic. The first coastal defense regiment was deployed in Chukotka, in December and is tasked with controlling the coast along the Northern Sea Passage. This is hard core, specialist terrain, snowbound for nine months a year and beset by strong winds and gales, the Chukotka unit has special equipment – snowmobiles, modular life support systems, field canteens, and all-terrain vehicles.
The division will be able to cover air defense facilities located in the region. However, the main purpose is to ensure safe navigation along the Northern Sea Passage. Russian Admiral Valentin Selivanov has stated that “After the creation of a division in Chukotka, navigation along the Northern Sea Route will become safer. The division based there is a powerful tactical formation capable of acting independently and can solve different problems. Foreign ships cannot sail along the Northern Sea Route without the permission of Russia. If a ship violates this rule, our servicemen will be able to board it from helicopters or boats and conduct an inspection. And given the powerful equipment capable of working in snowy conditions, the troops can also carry out humanitarian operations. For example, to save people in case of emergency – both on land and near the coast.”
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