President Vladimir Putin ordered Russia’s military to increase its focus on the Arctic and finish plans by the end of the year to upgrade military bases in the resource-rich region where world powers jostle for control.
Speaking to Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Putin praised the military’s work in the Arctic, where Canada said on Monday it was claiming the North Pole as part of an broader claim on the region.
The United States, Denmark and Norway are also pressing for control of what they consider their fair share of massive untapped oil and natural gas reserves.
“I request that you pay special attention to the deployment of infrastructure and military units in the Arctic,” Putin said, speaking at a Defense Ministry board meeting.
“By the end of the year it is planned – and I expect it will be done … the renewal of the Tiksi airfield and completion of construction work on the Severomorsk-1 airfield,” he said in televised comments.
Russia has already completed work on renovating an airfield on the Novosibirsk Islands, Putin said, which was abandoned in 1993. Earlier this year Moscow sent 10 warships and four icebreakers to the islands in a show of force.
Underscoring Moscow’s sensitivity over Arctic claims, Russia arrested 30 people on board a Greenpeace ship during a September protest against Russian offshore Arctic drilling. They now face charges carrying seven year jail sentences.
Putin said earlier this week that Russia’s military presence in the Arctic was needed to protect against potential threats from the United States.
The U.S. Geological Survey says the Arctic contains 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 15 percent of oil.
The world’s largest oil producer, Russia expects to see oil output decline at its mainstay western Siberian oilfields in coming years and has looked further afield to potential Arctic reserves.
Russia, Canada and Denmark all say an underwater mountain range known as the Lomonosov Ridge, which stretches 1,800 km (1,120 miles) across the pole under the Arctic Sea, is part of their own landmass.