Putin orders comprehensive upgrade of military towns on Kola

Many of the closed Arctic cities that host Russian naval crews and their families are in need of infrastructure upgrades.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - April 21, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered speedy improvements to closed military cites on the Kola Peninsula, in the Russian Arctic near the Norwegian border,

Setlements such as Zaozyorsk, Vidyaevo, Gadzhiyevo, Snezhnorosk, Polyarny, Aleksandrovsk, Gremikha and Severomorsk, so-called ZATOs, along the Barents Sea coast are home to navy officers, their families and others supporting the Russian Northern Fleet’s submarines, surface vessels, weapon storages, defense systems and airfields.

Although many of the warships, weapons and military infrastructure are new-built and upgraded to modern standards, the cities themselves are in gravely bad shape, such as in Zaozyorsk, the submarine base only 65 kilometers from the border to Norway, where public utilities are breaking down at the most inappropriate times. Mid-winter, in freezing polar night, military commanders don’t want the homes of the crews serving on Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered subs to be left without heating.

Renovation needs have been on the table for the Northern Fleet and regional authorities in Murmansk more than once. A few roofs have been changed on blocks of flats, and a couple of playgrounds for children are established. But in overall terms, life can be pretty hard for those contracting the military in Russia’s Arctic regions.

Putin’s orders aim to change that.

“I ask the Government and the Minister of Defense to take control of this issue, to provide a comprehensive modernization of infrastructure, energy, residential and social infrastructure in the ZATOs of the Murmansk region — the main base area of the Northern Fleet,” Putin said at last week’s meeting on Arctic development.

The Russian President gave a 2024 deadline on when the upgrades of the closed military towns of the Murmansk regions should be ready.

In 2019, the then newly appointed Governor of Murmansk region, Andrei Chibis, in a meeting with Putin painted a rather bleak picture of the housing troubles for the armed forces.

He said the living conditions in the closed military towns “won’t hold water.”

“And this is where our military men are living, the people serving in the Northern Fleet, and providing security to our country and geopolitical stability,” Chibis told Putin.

“We have to change this situation,” he stressed.

Hundreds of soldiers from the Kola Peninsula are currently participating in Russia’s war and lawless actions in Ukraine. Many are killed, including troops from the Northern Fleet’s 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Pechenga.

Others, like the soldiers from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade in Sputnik, are on board amphibious landing vessels now sailing the Black Sea outside Odesa and Crimea.