ALAKURTTI BASE, RUSSIAN ARCTIC — An RPG shell whistles towards its target, exploding in a ball of fire just as a group of soldiers in white fatigues, zip past on skis, bullets flying from their white rifles.
It was all part of a training exercise by Russia’s newly formed 80th Motor Rifle Arctic Brigade, which was established two years ago as part of the Kremlin’s bid for dominance in the Arctic. The soldiers are trained to operate in some of the least hospitable climates in the world — where temperatures can drop to -40 — using tanks, military hardware and even reindeer sleds to get around in the frozen terrain.
NBC News was granted rare access to the Alakurtti base this week, along with several other foreign media organizations. Located near the border with Finland in the Murmansk region, the Soviet-era base was refurbished and formally opened in 2015.
Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has launched the biggest military build-up in the Arctic since the fall of the USSR – bolstering its fleet of nuclear-fueled icebreakers, reopening abandoned Soviet military bases and building a string of new ones.
Russia isn’t alone in its Arctic ambition. The United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Norway and Iceland all lay claim to the area and its abundant natural resources.
Russia is trying to claim 460,000 square miles of the Arctic Ocean as its national territory — an area that includes the North Pole. Russian divers even planted a national flag on the North Pole seabed in a symbolic claim to the region’s energy riches.
Washington is watching closely. Asked about Russia’s military build-up in the Arctic at his confirmation hearing, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said it was “not to our advantage to leave any part of the world” to others. American Marines have even been deployed to train for Arctic warfare in Norway.
Full article: Russia’s Military Buildup in Arctic Has U.S. Watching Closely (NBC)