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. Russia Defense Watch: Flexing arctic power

The Norwegian-owned islands of Spitsbergen.
by Martin Sieff
Washington (UPI) Jul 15, 2008
Russia has taken another significant step in building up its military presence at the top of the world.

The Russian navy announced Monday it was sending two warships to patrol the waters around the Norwegian-owned islands of Spitsbergen, RIA Novosti reported.

The move was a forthright one that could cause diplomatic tensions: Norway is a longtime member of the U.S.-led NATO alliance, and it controls the waters and seabeds around Spitsbergen out to a 200-mile radius, in accordance with the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. But Russia refuses to recognize Norway's exclusive right to that zone and whatever mineral and energy wealth may be discovered beneath it.

The Russian navy's announcement backs up that claim with military might. "Russia's fleet has resumed a warship presence in the arctic, including in the area of Spitsbergen," it said, according to the RIA Novosti report.

"The large ASW -- anti-submarine warfare -- ship Severomorsk has already entered the area to fulfill its tasks," the statement said.

RIA Novosti said on Thursday the Severomorsk would be supported by the Marshal Ustinov, which it described as a Slava-class missile cruiser.

Russian policymakers believe global warming will make a cornucopia of energy and mineral riches beneath the previously inaccessible Arctic Ocean available for exploitation, and they are determined to maintain and extend Russia's claim to it.

Russian officers learn Indian mountain war tactics
Russia has sent a handpicked group of army officers to India to learn Indian techniques carrying out military operations in mountainous territory, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

The two-week mission began Monday, the news agency said, citing a Russian military spokesman.

The Russian military is taking the visit seriously. The mission is led by deputy ground forces commander, three-star Lt. Gen. Valery Yevnevich, RIA Novosti said. He is being accompanied by officers picked from the Russian army's mountain brigades and from the Far Eastern Military Command officer training school. They are being taken to a training center in the state of Jammu & Kashmir, where India has fought mujahedin guerrilla incursions from neighboring Pakistan over the past two decades.

The purpose of the visit is "to see how the Indian troops train for mountainous operations," Col. Igor Konashenkov told the news agency.

The mission is scheduled to last until July 30, and it was approved June 24 during the visit to Moscow -- reported in these columns -- by India's chief of Army Staff, Gen. Deepak Kapoor, and by Russian Ground Forces commander, Gen. Alexei Maslov, as a component of what RIA Novosti described as "an extensive military cooperation program."

Top Russian army commanders are determined to improve the performance of their mountain operations special units following their lackluster performance in carrying out eventually successful but long drawn out counterinsurgency operations against secessionist guerrillas in Chechnya.

The subject has become a hot button once again as tensions rise ominously between Russia and the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus, whose leaders want to join NATO. Russia backs the breakaway Abkhazians, whose claim to independence is denied by Georgia.

RIA Novosti noted that in 2007, Russia started to move two mountain brigades into the North Caucasus facing its frontier with Georgia. The news agency said the two brigades comprised 4,500 regular conscripted soldiers rather than elite specialists.

India has a vastly larger mountain warfare force. The Indians still remember their military humiliation at the hands of China in the October 1962 Himalayan war between the two giant nations. India now has 10 specialized mountain warfare divisions and an 11th division of infantry trained and equipped for high-altitude operations already based along its mountainous borders with Pakistan and China.

RIA Novosti said the current Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation program is scheduled to continue until 2010, and that it comprises 200 projects with $18 billion in funding, according to official statements from the Russian Defense Ministry.

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