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US keeping close eye on Russian activity in Arctic, Pentagon says

Arkticheskiy Trilistnik Arctic military base
Russian defense ministry file photo of the Arkticheskiy Trilistnik Arctic military base located on Franz Josef Land archipelago near the North Pole.

The US Defense Department has commented the latest news reports on significant Russian military activities and infrastructure build-ups in the Arctic, saying these events are not going unnoticed.

“Without getting into specific intelligence assessments, obviously we’re monitoring it very closely,” said Pentagon press secretary said John F. Kirby during a briefing.

Kirby spoke to reporters on Monday after CNN ran a story on Russia’s plans to test its doomsday nuclear-armed Poseidon that is powered by a nuclear reactor and capable of delivering warheads of up to 100 megatons, according to estimates. It is also the largest torpedo ever built, with a length of 24 meters and a diameter of about two meters.

Satellite imagery included in the CNN report also showed a continuous build-up of Russian military bases, as well as the presence of new military equipment and assets.

As ice melts in the Arctic, new options for transiting the Arctic open up — and also remove natural barriers that Russia once relied on to protect its own interests there. Now, it is seeking to bolster its security through the refurbishing of Soviet-era airfields, the expansion of its network of air and coastal defense missile systems and the strengthening of its anti-access and area-denial capabilities.

But the US has its own interests in the Arctic as well, Kirby said.

“[We] obviously recognize that the region is key terrain that’s vital to our own homeland defense and as a potential strategic corridor between the Indo-Pacific, Europe and the homeland — which would make it vulnerable to expanded competition,” Kirby said. “We’re committed to protecting our U.S. national security interests in the Arctic by upholding a rules-based order in the region, particularly through our network of Arctic allies and partners who share the same deep mutual interests that we do.”

Earlier this year, the US sent three strategic bombers on a lengthy deployment to Norway, where they will hone their High North skills. The B-1 bombers already achieved a number of firsts, including landing in the Arctic Circle, hot pit refuels in Europe and other maneuvers.

In the 2019 DOD Arctic Strategy, the Defense Department told Congress it has three objectives in the Arctic. Those objectives include defending the homeland, ensuring common areas remain free and open, and competing when needed to maintain a favorable regional balance of power.

“The Arctic is a potential corridor — between the Indo-Pacific and Europe and the U.S. homeland — for expanded strategic competitions,” the report reads. “Strategic competitors may undertake malign or coercive activities in the Arctic in order to advance their goals for these regions. The DOD must be prepared to protect US national security interests by taking appropriate actions in the Arctic as part of maintaining favorable balances of power in the Indo-Pacific and Europe.”

Kirby said the US military is well aware of Russian activities in the Arctic.

“Obviously we’re watching this, and as I said before, we have national security interests there that we know … we need to protect and defend,” he said. “And as I said, nobody’s interested in seeing the Arctic become militarized.”