Russia conducts military drills in Arctic sea opposite Alaska

A still image from video, released by the Russian Defence Ministry, shows what it said to be a Bastion mobile coastal defence missile system firing during the military drills Umka-2022 on the Chukchi Sea coastline, in this still image taken from handout footage released September 16, 2022. (Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Russian nuclear-powered submarines fired cruise missiles in the Arctic on Friday as part of military drills designed to test Moscow’s readiness for a possible conflict in its icy northern waters, the defence ministry said.

The drills, named Umka-2022, took place in the Chukchi Sea, an eastern stretch of the Arctic Ocean that separates Russia from the U.S. state of Alaska.

Russia sees its vast Arctic territory as a vital strategic interest and has been building up its military capabilities in the region for years, raising alarm bells in the West.

A still image from video, released by the Russian Defence Ministry, shows what it said to be a Russian nuclear-powered submarine sailing during the military drills Umka-2022 in the Chukchi Sea, in this still image taken from handout footage released September 16, 2022. (Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

Russia’s defence ministry said on Friday two nuclear-powered submarines – the Omsk and Novosibirsk – fired anti-ship cruise missiles from the Chukchi Sea, hitting targets at a distance of 400 kilometres (250 miles).

It published a video on social media which it said showed the missiles being launched from vessels situated at points of the Northern Sea Route – a commercial transport channel Russia is promoting as an alternative option for cargo ships travelling between Europe and Asia.

Moscow has continued a program of high-profile military exercises even as the bulk of its land forces are engaged in the war in Ukraine. Earlier this month it conducted scaled-down war games in the Russian Far East with some 50,000 troops taking part. 

Those exercises came just as a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive that forced Russian troops to abandon swathes of territory in the eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine was getting underway.

The defence ministry said this week’s Arctic drills were a test of Russia’s “ability and readiness to defend the Russian arctic by military means.”

A still image from video, released by the Russian Defence Ministry, shows what it said to be Russia’s military vessels, including the warship Marshal Krylov, sailing during the drills Umka-2022 in the Chukchi Sea, in this still image taken from handout footage released September 16, 2022. (Russian Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS)

In addition to the missile launches from nuclear-powered submarines, Russia’s “Bastion” coastal missile system also fired missiles at sea-based targets at a distance of 300 kilometres from the Chukchi peninsula – Russia’s easternmost territory.

Russia’s militarisation of the Arctic region has caused disquiet in Western capitals, other Arctic nations and among environmental groups. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last month Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic presented a “strategic challenge” for the NATO alliance. 

Related stories from around the North: 

Finland: Hundreds of foreign soldiers join military exercise in Arctic Finland, The Independent Barents Observer

NorwayDefence minister says Norway must get stronger in the North, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: Russia tests latest underwater warfare technology in the Barents Sea, The Independent Barents Observer

United States: U.S. Army poised to revamp Alaska forces to prep for Arctic fight, The Associated Press

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