MOSCOW, November 6 (RIA Novosti) – The Russian military is planning to form a squadron of warships with ice-breaking capability by 2014 to protect vital shipping routes in the Arctic, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Wednesday.
“I hope we will find additional capability to transport cargo in the Arctic, including support of ships moving along the Arctic routes,” Shoigu said at a video-conferencing session at the Defense Ministry.
New equipment will also be provided for infantry forces to fight in the region, he said.
The Arctic, believed to have vast untapped natural resources, has increasingly been at the center of disputes between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States in recent years. Rising temperatures are causing a reduction in sea ice cover, providing easier access to lucrative offshore oil and gas deposits.
Shoigu reiterated that the Arctic region is a key resource base, with strategic importance for Russia’s economic development and energy security.
In line with Russia’s Arctic doctrine, adopted in 2008, the Kremlin has officially set the goal of deploying a combined-arms force by 2020 to protect its political and economic interests in the region, including military, border, and coastguard units.
As part of the ambitious program, the Russian military is planning to reopen airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago that were mothballed in 1993.
In addition, the Russian government unveiled plans last year to spend around 1.3 trillion rubles ($44 billion) on economic and social projects in the Arctic by 2020.
At present, however, Russia is still unprepared for a potential war in the Arctic, according to a report by the Regional Development Ministry released Monday.
The report cited the lack of border security infrastructure, insufficient training of personnel for fighting in the harsh climate and local population decline as key threats to Russia’s security in the region that makes up a fifth of the country’s territory.