Arctic Yearbook 2015 - Page 406

406 Arctic Yearbook 2015 These experts tend to ignore that fact that the Soviet-time military machine has significantly degenerated in the 1990s and early 2000s and the Russian conventional and nuclear forces badly need modernization to effectively meet new challenges and threats. To reorganize in a more efficient way the Russian land forces in the Western part of the AZRF there were plans to transform the motorized infantry and marine brigades located near Pechenga (Murmansk region) to the Arctic special force unit, with soldiers trained in a special program and equipped with modern personal equipment for military operations in the Arctic. The Arctic brigade should be operational by 2016. There were also plans to create another Arctic brigade somewhere in the Arkhangelsk region. All conventional forces in the AZRF should form an Arctic Group of Forces (AGF) to be led by the joint Arctic command (to be established in 2017). However, the Ukrainian crisis has made adjustments to Russia’s military planning. While two Pechenga-based brigades were left in place, the Arctic brigade was surprisingly created ahead of schedule (in January 2015) and deployed in Alakurtti which is close to the Finnish-Russian border. Another surprise was that given an ‘increased NATO military threat’ in the North, President Putin has decided to accelerate the creation of a new strategic command ‘North’ which was established in December 2014 (three years ahead of the schedule). It was also announced that the second Arctic brigade will be formed in 2016 and will be stationed in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district (east of the Ural Mountains in the Arctic Circle). Another interesting structural change is an ongoing reorganization of the Russian Coast Guard (part of the Federal Security Service (FSS), successor of the KGB). Now the Coast Guard has a wide focus in the Arctic: in addition to the traditional protection of biological resources in the Arctic Ocean, oil and gas installations and shipping along the Northern Sea Route are among the agency’s new top priorities. For this purpose, the FSS has established two new border guard commands: one in Murmansk for the western AZRF regions, and one in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for the eastern Arctic regions. There are plans to equip the Coast Guard in the AZRF with the brand new vessels of project 22100. The Okean-class ice-going patrol ship, the Polyarnaya Zvezda (Polar Star), is currently undergoing sea trials in the Baltic Sea. Vessels of this class can break up to 31.4 inch-thick ice. They have an endurance of 60 days and a range of 12,000 nautical miles at 20 knots. They are equipped with a Ka27 helicopter and can be supplied with Gorizont UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). The attention which Russia pays now to the Coast Guard is in line with what other coastal states do (especially Norway and Denmark). To conclude, serious international experts do not see any particular alarming trends in Russia’s military behavior in the Arctic in the aftermath of the Ukrainian crisis. According to the former Commander of the U.S. Coast Guard and current U.S. State Department Special Representative to the Arctic, Admiral Robert J. Papp: “Everything we have seen them doing so far [i.e. Russia], is lawful, considered and deliberative. So we’ll just continue monitoring it and not overreact to it.” Papp noted that all countries have a responsibility to be able to provide search and rescue capabilities and navigation assistance in the area and Russia seems to be investing in that.2 Russian Military Activities in the Arctic