Russia Wants to Create Arctic Fleet Amid Mounting Tensions in Region With U.S. and China

Russia's defense ministry is looking to create a new division of its Navy to protect its interests in the Arctic, according to Russian state media.

During the June summit in Geneva between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, the Russian leader dismissed U.S. concerns about Moscow's militarization of the region, where China and the U.S. are jostling for power.

But the report by state news outlet Tass on Thursday signifies a new statement of intent by Russia for the region where it continues to step up its influence.

The Russian Navy consists of the Baltic, Pacific, and Black Sea fleets as well as the Caspian flotilla. A source told Tass that a new division was being looked at for the region as well.

"The Russian Arctic Fleet, a new structure, is under consideration," the unnamed source told the agency.

"It will be a separate formation within the Navy, and its responsibility will be to ensure the safety of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic coast in the area of responsibility of the Northern and Pacific fleets," the source added in comments reported by other Russian news outlets.

In a hint of how Moscow views its coming geopolitical threats, the source said that the new fleet would allow Russia's Northern and Pacific fleet to focus on solving combat missions, Tass reported.

"The plan is that the infrastructure of the new association will be separate from the Northern and Pacific fleets. In the future, it will have ships and special equipment suitable for the Arctic," the source said.

Newsweek has contacted the Russian defense ministry and the Pentagon for comment.

It comes after Russia announced on Monday it has successfully launched its new Tsirkon hypersonic cruise missile from a submarine for the first time.

After prior test launches from the frigate Admiral Gorshkov, Russia said missiles were fired from the Yasen-class nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine Severodvinsk at a target in the Barents Sea off its northern coast, in what demonstrates a new phase in Russian naval capabilities.

While considered a zone of cooperation, there is geopolitical positioning among the big powers in the Arctic amid claims of increased militarization and exercises in the region.

In August, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced the development of military infrastructure in the Arctic to facilitate the troops stationed there.

This included administrative and residential complexes for servicemen on the islands in the Russian Arctic, an airfield on the Novosibirsk Islands archipelago and a military camp in the Sakha Republic, Russian media reported.

Russia is keen to secure its northern coast and open up a key shipping route from Asia to Europe.

Meanwhile, CNN reported in April that satellite images showed Russia was building up its military in the Arctic where it was testing its newest weapons as the region's ice diminishes due to the climate crisis.

CNN said the images from space showed the buildup of military bases and hardware on Russia's Arctic coastline, with underground storage facilities likely for the Poseidon 2M39 torpedo and other new high-tech weapons.

But Russia's moves in the region have also been matched by NATO and U.S. troop and equipment movements.

During the summit in Geneva in June, Putin dismissed U.S. concerns about its militarization of the region as "absolutely groundless."

"We are not doing anything new there compared to the Soviet era," he said as he called for co-operation between Moscow and Washington in the region.

Russian icebreaker in the Arctic
The Russian "50 Years of Victory" nuclear-powered icebreaker at the North Pole on August 18, 2021.Russian state media have reported that Russia's defence ministry is looking at creating an Arctic Fleet branch of its Navy. EKATERINA ANISIMOVA/Getty