Russian paratroopers on April 10 conducted a training jump near the North Pole, descending down to Ice Station Barneo situated on a drifting ice floe. This is the first time such a paratrooper jump has been executed on a large ocean drifting ice floe, rather than a fixed point of land such as an island. Ice Station Barneo is opened every spring and remains operational for up to one month. The base is used by scientists and tourists from all over the world.
The exercise involved over ninety paratroops jumping from a Russian IL-76 transport plane and follows a previous Russian Arctic exercise last month where over 350 paratroops were dropped into the New Siberian Islands. That exercise was entirely combat oriented with participation by Russian Navy assets such as the guided missile cruiser Petr Veliky.
Today’s drop is part of an exercise to train in Arctic rescue operations of downed pilots and Polar exploration teams in extreme climactic conditions with ground temperatures around thirty degrees below zero. Loaded pallets of various materials including supplies, fuel and lubricants were dropped with the paratroops.
The importance of these materials surrounds their functionality and survivability along with the troops themselves in such harsh conditions. Failure to properly plan and compensate for such effects is what largely led to the defeat of the German Army a mere fifteen miles from Moscow in the Second World War.
There are several purposes for Russia to conduct such training aside from the above stated search and rescue focus. With oil and gas exploration on the rise in the Arctic region, Moscow intends to play as large a role as possible in such exploration and any subsequent oil & gas drilling operations that result from it.
Additionally, there will be the need to protect and defend such gas and oil fields in times of war. Russia’s larger paratroop exercise last month; along with the reopening of air and naval bases in the Arctic left dormant since the Soviet collapse, are all geared toward that end.
On the surface, there would not appear to be a perceivable military threat to any Russian interests in the Arctic. However, in any open conflict with NATO there could well be small commando style operations launched from Norway, or from ships at sea in the Arctic to damage or destroy Russian oil & gas production.
Such a threat would also likely emerge were there an open conflict between Russia & China. Such operations conducted by China would be launched in the very opening of hostilities either as part of surprise attack or in response to one by Russia, from commercial and research vessels already present in the Arctic. China currently has no bases or sovereign territory anywhere in the Arctic from which to launch such operations.