Why Is Russia Bringing the S-400 Air Defense System to Its Bases in the Arctic?

Written by David Axe

Russia is intensifying its efforts to exert economic and military control over the rapidly warming Arctic region.

But it’s not alone. The United States is staking its own claim on the far north.

The Arctic currently accounts for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, according to analysts Nataliya Bugayova, Alexander Begej and Darina Regio from the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for the Study of War.

The analysts in their March 26, 2019 report cite a drumbeat of news coming out of Russia.

The Russian ministry of natural resources on March 13, 2019 submitted a comprehensive plan for exploiting the Arctic. “The plan included over 100 projects intended to develop mineral resources in the region as the polar ice caps continue to shrink,” according to the ISW analysts.

Meanwhile on March 20, 2019, Russian president Vladimir Putin launched the development of the major Kharasaveyskoye gas field on the Yamal Peninsula in Northern Russia. “Putin is increasingly prioritizing investment in the Arctic as a source of potential future economic growth for Russia.”

“The Kremlin is also continuing its military buildup in the Far North,” Bugayova, Begej and Regio wrote.

Russian Northern Fleet commander Adm. Nikolay Yevmenov stated that the Russian armed forces would soon finish a new air-defense base in the village of Tiksi above the Arctic Circle.

Russia has been expanding its military presence in the region in recent years with new military installations, additions to its already-dominant icebreaker fleet, and deployments of area-defense systems including the S-400 and Tor-M2DT surface-to-air missile systems and Bastion anti-ship missiles.

The Kremlin aims to solidify Russia’s position as a dominant power in the Arctic primarily to secure uncontested access to economic resources in the Arctic Circle as well as the Northern Sea Route.

Russia, of course, isn’t the only country eyeing the Arctic. The January 2019 spending bill that the U.S. Congress negotiated to end the 35-day partial shutdown of the federal government includes $655 million for the first new icebreaker in 43 years for the U.S. Coast Guard. The bill also includes an additional $20 million for long-lead components for a second icebreaker.

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About the author

David Axe

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest.

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