MOSCOW, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Russia has begun a large-scale militarization of the Arctic Ocean region, with a military command structure planned by 2017.
It comes after recent discoveries of oil and natural gas reserves under the ocean floor, and the possibility a potential Northern Sea Route -- an alternative to the Suez Canal -- could soon be established as global climate change causes melting of Arctic ice.
Former Soviet bases are being reactivated, a 6,000-soldier permanent military force will be established in the northwest Russia's Murmansk region, and radar and guidance systems are planned in the area, the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.
Col. Oleg Salyukov said, "For the defense of national interests in the Arctic, a multiservice task force will be formed. A motorized rifle arctic brigade is now being formed in the Murmansk region. The second arctic brigade will be formed in 2016 and will be stationed in the Yamal-Nenets autonomous region," a reference to the Arctic Circle area east of the Ural Mountains, RIA Novosti reported earlier this month.
Combat missions were simulated recently during the full-scale "Vostok 2014" military exercises.
While the oil and gas reserves in Arctic are claimed by some to represent 17 percent to 30 percent of the world's total, some are skeptical of Russia's plans.
"It is consistent with the stance of the Russian state, which only understands the word 'force' in military terms. But you must keep it in proportion; it is still only a symbolic battle. Take a look at the map and you will soon see that 6,000 men spread over such a huge area is not much," said military analyst Alexander Golts of the Russian news website Yezhenedelny Zhurnal.
The Arctic area is governed by international maritime treaties, and Canada, which also has extensive territory in the region, routinely conducts military exercises there. Since the start of the Ukraine conflict, relations between Russia and Ukraine have deteriorated significantly.