By Joshua Riggs
The Russian Navy conducted a war game exercise off the coast of Alaska in the Bering Sea late last week. The maneuvers took place in international waters and consisted of 50 ships and 40 aircraft.
Russian Navy Commander-in-Chief Admiral Nikolai A. Yevmenov published a statement through the Defense Ministry saying, “We are building up our forces to ensure the economic development of the region. We are getting used to the Arctic spaces.”
The Russian Federation has long had its eyes set on developing strategic mineral reserves worth up to $30 trillion in the Arctic that are yet to be developed in the region. Developing the region both economically and militarily has been identified as a strategic goal for Russia. Additionally, the Northern Sea Passage allows Russia to maintain a transit and trade route along the Russian northern coast, and rising global temperatures with make this route a critical part of Russia’s economy in the years to come.
In July 2020, U.S. 6th Fleet participated in Exercise Sea Breeze in the Black Sea, a NATO exercise comprised of eight participating nations. Along with the growing strategic importance of the Arctic for Russia, the presence of Exercise Sea Breeze may help explain these Russian Naval maneuvers.
Initial reports indicated that an Omsk ballistic submarine surfaced in international waters near Alaska for unclear reasons, but experts say based on a photograph of the sub, it appears to be a U.S. Navy Los Angeles-class submarine and not a Russian vessel.
Later Thursday, F-22 Fighter jets were dispatched to intercept six Cold War era Tu-142 maritime patrol aircraft that were within 50 nautical miles of Alaska, however NORAD confirmed that the aircraft never entered U.S. or Canadian airspace.
U.S. commercial fishing boats were alarmed on Wednesday when they noticed the Russian warships, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. It is still unclear when the exercise began or when it will end, but the pre-planned maneuvers were known to some U.S. military officials.
Russia has increased the size and scale of its war games following a deep trough in Russia-West relations following Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean Peninsula.
MAIN PHOTO: Map showing the Bering Sea and its location in the Pacific Ocean. Created from a composite of two maps on Wikimedia Commons.