By Vladimir Isachenkov
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday hailed the military's performance during recent Arctic drills, part of Moscow's efforts to expand its presence in the polar region.
Navy chief Adm. Nikolai Yevmenov reported to Putin that the exercise has featured three nuclear submarines simultaneously breaking through Arctic Ice, and warplanes flying over the North Pole.
This week’s drills were conducted around Alexandra Land, an island that is part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago where the military has recently built a base.
Russia has prioritized beefing up its military presence in the Arctic region, which is believed to hold up to one-quarter of the Earth’s undiscovered oil and gas. Putin in the past has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $30 trillion.
Russia, the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway all have been trying to assert jurisdiction over parts of the Arctic, as shrinking polar ice opens new opportunities for tapping resources and opening new shipping lanes.
As part of its efforts to project its power over the Arctic, the Russian military has rebuilt and expanded numerous facilities across the polar region in recent years, revamping runways and deploying additional surveillance and air defense assets.
As part of this week's maneuvers, a pair of MiG-31 fighters flew over the North Pole, Yevmenov said. A Defense Ministry video featured them being refueled by a tanker plane.
The video also showed three nuclear submarines that smashed through the Arctic ice next to one another.
Putin noted that the exercise was unprecedented for the military and praised its skills. He added that the maneuvers also have proven the reliability of Russian weapons in polar conditions.
“I order to continue Arctic expeditions and research in the Far North to help ensure Russia's security,” Putin told the navy chief.
The Russian military has expanded the number and the scope of its war games amid bitter tensions in ties with the West, which have sunk to post-Cold War lows after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.