The President vows to expand his country’s nuclear fleet despite the current difficulties in Russia’s economy and manufacturing.
President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday touted Russia’s Arctic power at a flag ceremony and dock launch for two nuclear-powered icebreakers that will provide year-round navigation in the western Arctic.
Putin, who chaired the opening ceremony in St. Petersburg in northern Russia via video link from the Kremlin, said such icebreakers are of strategic importance for the country.
“Both icebreakers were laid down as part of a large-scale serial project and are part of our large-scale, systematic work to upgrade and replenish the domestic icebreaker fleet in order to strengthen Russia’s status as an Arctic superpower,” Putin said.
The Arctic is gaining strategic importance with climate change as a shrinking ice cap opens up new sea routes.
Huge oil and gas deposits lie in Russia’s arctic regions, including a liquefied natural gas facility on the Yamal Peninsula.
The Kremlin chief vowed to develop his country’s nuclear fleet despite the current difficulties in Russia’s economy and manufacturing, in an apparent reference to Western sanctions over Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine.
“We will increase the capabilities of our nuclear icebreaker fleet,” Putin said.
He said this should be accomplished “using home appliances and components.”
The Russian leader added that Moscow is “open to cooperation with our partners” and “despite the current difficulties, we will definitely implement everything we have planned”.
Putin smiled as the Yakutia nuclear icebreaker was launched at the docks and stood as the Russian national anthem graced the raising of the Russian flag on the Urals icebreaker, which will begin operations in December.
The 173.3 meter (569 ft) long Yakutia with a displacement of up to 33,540 tons can break through up to three meters of ice. It will enter service in 2024.
Two other icebreakers of the same series, Arktika and Sibir, are already in service, and another, Chukotka, is planned for 2026.
Putin said that by 2027, a 209-metre super-powerful nuclear icebreaker called Rossiya with a displacement of up to 71,380 tons would be completed. He will be able to break through four meters thick ice.
“They are needed for Arctic exploration and development, to ensure safe and sustainable shipping in this region and to increase traffic along the North Sea Route,” Putin said.
“The development of this key transport corridor will allow Russia to better exploit its export potential and establish efficient logistics routes, including to Southeast Asia.”
Putin, who came to power in 1999 on promises to end the chaos caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union, has quietly strengthened Russia’s presence in the Arctic, where Russia has more than 24,000 km (15,000 miles) of coastline stretching from the Barents Sea extends to the Sea of Okhotsk.
Since 2005, Russia has reopened dozens of Soviet-era military bases in the Arctic, modernized its navy, and developed new hypersonic missiles designed to evade US sensors and defenses.
Arctic experts have said it would take the West at least 10 years to catch up with the Russian military in the region if it chose to do so.