Russian navy conducts major manoeuvres near Alaska

In this undated video grab provided by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service, Russia’s Varyag missile cruiser fires a cruise missile as part of the Russian navy manoeuvres in the Bering Sea. The Russian navy has conducted massive war games near Alaska involving dozens of ships and aircraft, the biggest such drills in the area since Soviet times. (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP)
The Russian navy conducted major war games near Alaska involving dozens of ships and aircraft, the military said Friday, the biggest such drills in the area since Soviet times.

Russia’s navy chief, Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, said more than 50 warships and about 40 aircraft were taking part in the exercise in the Bering Sea, which involved multiple practice missile launches.

“We are holding such massive drills there for the first time ever,” Yevmenov said in a statement released by the Russian Defence Ministry.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the exercises began or if they had finished.

Yevmenov emphasized that the war games are part of Russia’s efforts to boost its presence in the Arctic region and protect its resources.

“We are building up our forces to ensure the economic development of the region. We are getting used to the Arctic spaces.”Admiral Nikolai Yevmenov, Russia's navy chief

The Russian military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities across the polar region in recent years, revamping runways and deploying additional air defence assets.

Russia has prioritized boosting its military presence in the Arctic region, which is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.

Russia’s Pacific Fleet, whose assets were taking part in the manoeuvres, said the Omsk nuclear submarine and the Varyag missile cruiser launched cruise missiles at a practice target in the Bering Sea as part of the exercise.

The manoeuvres also saw Onyx cruise missiles being fired at a practice target in the Gulf of Anadyr from the coast of the Chukchi Peninsula, it added.

NORAD monitoring submarine

As the exercise was ongoing, U.S. military spotted a Russian submarine surfacing near Alaska on Thursday. U.S. Northern Command spokesman Bill Lewis noted that the Russian military exercise is taking place in international waters, well outside U.S. territory.

Lewis said the North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command were closely monitoring the submarine. He added that they haven’t received any requests for assistance from the Russian navy but stand ready to assist those in distress.

In this undated video grab provided by Russian Defence Ministry Press Service, Russian warships take part in manoeuvres in the Bering Sea. (Russian Defence Ministry Press Service via AP)

Russian state RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russia’s Pacific Fleet sources as saying that the surfacing of the Omsk nuclear submarine was routine.

It cited former Russian navy’s chief of staff, retired admiral Viktor Kravchenko, as saying that by having the submarine surface in the area the navy may have wanted to send a deliberate signal.

“It’s a signal that we aren’t asleep and we are wherever we want,” RIA Novosti quoted Kravchenko as saying.

Fishing vessels on alert

The presence of Russian military assets in the area caused a stir for U.S. commercial fishing vessels in the Bering Sea on Wednesday.

“We were notified by multiple fishing vessels that were operating out the Bering Sea that they had come across these vessels and were concerned,” U.S. Coast Guard spokesman Kip Wadlow said Thursday.

The Coast Guard contacted the Alaskan Command at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which confirmed the ships were there as part of a pre-planned Russian military exercise that was known to some U.S. military officials, he said.

The Russian military has expanded the number and the scope of its war games in recent years as Russia-West relations have sunk to their lowest level since the Cold War, after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and other crises.

Related stories from around the North

Canada: Canada’s long-term neglect of Arctic must stop, says Senate report, Eye on the Arctic

Denmark: Denmark, U.S. affirm need to ‘maintain and build situational awareness’ in the Arctic, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Finland and Russia discuss cooperation between Arctic and Barents structures, The Independent Barents Observer

Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Norwegian police arrests citizen suspected of selling state secrets to Russia, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Moscow expells senior Norwegian diplomat, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden’s FM calls for more EU involvement in Arctic as country hosts EU Arctic Forum, Radio Sweden

United States: U.S. wants to keep the Arctic an area of low tensions, top official, Radio Canada International

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