Russian Troops Stationed Near Finnish Border as Putin Begins Move on Arctic

Russian Northern Fleet
The crew of Russia's nuclear-powered submarine Yekaterinburg line up on its deck as it returns to Gadjiyevo base in Murmansk region Lev Fedoseev/Files/REUTERS

A detachment of about 800 servicemen from Russia's Northern Fleet has been stationed in the Russian town of Alakurtti, Murmansk region, just 50km from the Finnish border, part of a large-scale expansion of Russian military facilities in the country's northwest according to a press statement issued by the unit's commanding admiral Vladimir Korolev on Tuesday.

The rest of the fleet are expected to be stationed there "soon" according to Korolev. The base will be one of the key strongholds in Russia's northernmost territories, designed to strengthen the country's defence capabilities from the west, and improve their territorial claims over areas in the Arctic.

At full force, Russia's Northern Fleet consists of about 3,000 ground troops trained for combat in Arctic conditions, along with 39 ships and 45 submarines. Its arrival in Murmansk follows Russia's decision last year to create a united command for all of its units designated with protecting Russia's interests in the country's northern regions.

According to Korolev, only one of the two commissioned barracks in the town are operational at the moment, with the other still under construction. Once the facilities are complete, Northern Fleet troops will begin combat training in Alakurtti.

14 airfields are also expected to be built in the new base, according to Korolev, with 10 of them due to be opened "in a matter of months".

The servicemen taking up the stations in the military town on Tuesday constitute the motor rifle brigade - a coastal defense unit from the Northern Fleet's ranks.

Hours later at a press conference in Moscow on, Russia's deputy defense minister general Dmitry Bulgakov confirmed his colleague's account and added that all of Russia's Northern Fleet troops stationed on the Finnish border will be kitted out with frost resistant uniforms, which are designed to resist temperatures of -60 degrees celsius.

NATO spokespeople were not immediately available to comment. Although Finland is not part of the alliance, Norway is a founding member.

According to Russia's state news agency Itar-Tass, the Northern Fleet underwent training in simulated Arctic conditions last week, while a recent Newsweek investigation found that in the coming years Russia's military activity will focus on operations in the Arctic.

Finnish news network YLE said that preparations were being made so that as soon as this spring Alakurtti could accommodate almost 3,000 Russian soldiers in the small town.

The current strategic advance of Russian troops towards the Murmansk region follows the Russian Navy's head of command Admiral Viktor Chirkov's announcement last month that the regions of the highest importance to the forces under his command are the Black Sea and the Arctic.

The Arctic circle is thought to have a wealth of natural resources with five countries making a territorial claim over it. Russia, Canada, USA, Norway and Denmark, which has sovereign control over Greenland, have all made claims over the North Pole.

In the last few months Russia has heavily stepped up its military projects in its northwestern regions and the overhaul of its facilities in Murmansk is part of that effort.