Russia adds further ‘protection’ to Northern Sea Route

Icebreaker in the arctic. Credit: Shutterstock

Russia is further militarising the Northern Sea Route (NSR) with a squadron of Su-34 fighter jets, capable of a 4,500 km range, as well as radar infrastructure.

The move comes in a bid to secure its interest in the region, amounting to 5% of Russian GDP, with various Arctic-based liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects and potentially untapped reserves of oil and gas at stake.

Launching from Monchegorsk, 100 km from the Norwegian border, the Su-34 jets have a range of 4,500 km, enough to cover almost the entire NSR, and can hit targets at a distance of up to 260 km, said the Russian military, using Kh-35U turbojet cruise missiles. More airbases are to be added along the route in due course, with the Nagurskoye and Rogachevo bases located furthest North.

The new Arctic fleet of the Su-34 might be, a military expert told Izvestia. The town, located in the central part of the Kola Peninsula just about 100 km from Finland and Norway, already houses a fleet of aircraft Su-24M and Su-24MP.

It follows recent orders for Tor-M2DT surface-to-air missile systems capable of covering the NSR, as well as demands that foreign warships in the Arctic Ocean give a 45-day notice period.

Russian claims the measures are intended to ward off fellow Arctic neighbours Canada, Norway, and the United States (US), all of whom are concerned about the security implications of thawing sea ice having suffered numerous Russian incursions into their airspace. In turn, the US recently declared its intention to send fleets to the Arctic, despite currently being hamstrung by only one tenuously operating icebreaker.

In a statement to the Russian press in May, the Russian Foreign Ministry condemned Norway’s own Globus military radar system, located in Vardø, just 50 km from the border with Russia. “It’s no secret that the information it receives is transmitted to the United States,” said spokesperson Maria Zakharova. “It seems obvious to me that military preparations near Russian or any other borders cannot be ignored by us or other countries.”