Russian nuclear-powered submarines fired cruise missiles in the Arctic on Friday as part of military drills designed to test Moscow’s readiness for a possible conflict in its icy northern waters, the defense ministry said.
The drills, named Umka-2022, took place in the Chukchi Sea, an eastern stretch of the Arctic Ocean that separates Russia from the U.S. state of Alaska.
Russia sees its vast Arctic territory as a vital strategic interest and has been building up its military capabilities in the region for years, raising alarm bells in the West.
Russia’s defense ministry said on Friday that two nuclear-powered submarines — the Omsk and Novosibirsk — fired anti-ship cruise missiles from the Chukchi Sea, hitting targets at a distance of 400 kilometers (250 miles).
It published a video on social media which it said showed the missiles being launched from vessels situated at points of the Northern Sea Route — a commercial transport channel Russia is promoting as an alternative option for cargo ships traveling between Europe and Asia.
Moscow has continued a program of high-profile military exercises even as the bulk of its land forces are engaged in the war in Ukraine. Earlier this month it conducted scaled-down war games in the Russian Far East with some 50,000 troops taking part.
Those exercises came just as a lightning Ukrainian counter-offensive that forced Russian troops to abandon swathes of territory in the eastern Kharkiv region of Ukraine was getting underway.
The defense ministry said this week’s Arctic drills were a test of Russia’s “ability and readiness to defend the Russian Arctic by military means.”
In addition to the missile launches from nuclear-powered submarines, Russia’s “Bastion” coastal missile system also fired missiles at sea-based targets at a distance of 300 kilometers from the Chukchi peninsula — Russia’s easternmost territory.
Russia’s militarization of the Arctic region has caused disquiet in Western capitals, other Arctic nations and among environmental groups.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last month Russia’s military buildup in the Arctic presented a “strategic challenge” for the NATO alliance.
(Reporting by Jake Cordell; editing by Guy Faulconbridge)