Russia will deploy top-of-the-line anti-aircraft missiles in the Arctic to protect against threats including US nuclear bombers.
S-400 missiles, which can shoot down planes and cruise missiles at up to 400 kilometres, will be stationed on the Arctic coast and islands by the end of 2020, the long-running newspaper Izvestia quoted defence ministry sources as saying.
New infrastructure is being constructed for anti-aircraft units along the northeast passage as Russia develops a military presence not seen there since the Cold War.
The defence ministry, which did not immediately respond to requests for comment, said in December that units in the Arctic would be among those to receive S-400s.
The new anti-aircraft installations are meant to protect the northern sea route to Asia, which Russia has been promoting as global warming melts Arctic sea ice further and faster each year.
Vladimir Putin announced a new Arctic development strategy at a forum last week, saying the polar region was heating up four times faster than the rest of the world.
He said Russia would launch three nuclear icebreakers this year and offer tax breaks to bring investors north.
On Tuesday, officials said a sea port would be built at the Sabetta liquified natural gas terminal on the Arctic coast and connected to the railway system.
The military has been building up its northern line of defences, starting a new Arctic brigade and revamping Soviet-era bases on polar islands such as Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land.
Earlier this month, it took television channels to the Northern Clover base on Kotelny island, where up to 250 soldiers are stationed along with medium-range Pantsir surface-to-air missiles.
Following last year’s Trident Juncture war games in Norway involving troops from the UK, other Nato countries have continued to hold exercises in the Arctic with an eye on Russia, most recently in Canada in March.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson announced in February that the UK would send troops to train in Norway and submarine-hunting aircraft over the Arctic.
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During last week’s Arctic forum, Russian MiG-31 fighter jets practiced intercepting bombers imitating an attack on Wrangel island in the Chukchi Sea.
S-400s are now being deployed north. “In the case of a large-scale conflict, American forces were planning to strike a blow” against manufacturing hubs in central Russia through the Arctic, retired air defence general Aitech Bizhev told Izvestia.
He cited the secret Cold War operation Giant Lance, when Richard Nixon sent strategic bombers over the Arctic Ocean in 1969, trying to push the Soviets and North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. The move was part of the “madman theory” to make Moscow think Nixon was crazy enough to call a nuclear strike if it spurned US demands.
“Soviet planes and anti-aircraft defences were able to meet them a thousand kilometres from the coast,” Mr Bizhev said. “Now our country is returning to an analogous defence concept.”
Izvestia also reported that Russia was seeing more and more Nato reconnaissance flights in the Arctic, including American heavy drones “testing” its northern defences.
It also said a French warship had gone through the northern sea route without warning last year.