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Russia recently launched at the Admiralty Shipyard in St Petersburg, the ‘Ivan Papanin’ which is the first of a powerful new design of Combat Icebreaker to be deployed in the Arctic, where they will bolster Russia’s military presence as it seeks to assert its ownership over vast oil and gas reserves.

Following the launch, Tass reported that Russia has for the first time a warship specifically designed and armed for Arctic warfare. The ‘Ivan Papanin’ is planned to be operational in 2024. A second vessel ‘Nikolai Lubov’ is building in the same yard.

Alaska Senator Dan Sullivan is a forceful advocate for greater US presence and resources in the Arctic. “Our adversaries are well ahead of the US when it comes to Arctic infrastructure” Sen Sullivan said in a statement “We have one heavy and one medium functioning Polar-class icebreakers, while Russia has more than 50”. The lone operational US heavy icebreaker is the 44-year-old Polar Star which must be nearing the end of its service life.

With 7000 miles of Arctic coastline, Russia has core economic and strategic interests in the Arctic. Rapidly melting ice is opening the Northern Sea Route, to year-round traffic. Much of that sea route is through Russia’s territorial waters. Russia expects shippers to use and pay for her pilots and abide by her navigation rules for the use of that sea route.

Year-round traffic on that sea route, is seen as the key to the longer-term economic success of President Putin’s Arctic strategy which both ships will enhance.

December 11, 2020