Bolstering Canada’s Arctic surveillance, defence and rapid-response capabilities are among top priorities outlined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In his most recent mandate letter the PM calls on Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan to work with the foreign affairs minister and the northern affairs minister “to strengthen continental defence, protect Canada’s rights and sovereignty and demonstrate international leadership with respect to the navigation of Arctic waters.”
Meanwhile, Russia continues to bolster military bases in the Arctic and build heavily armed ice breakers. For example, the Ivan Papanin is one of two new military craft capable of smashing through ice up to 1.7 metres to be equipped with heavy weapons. It is expected to be fitted with Kalibr cruise missiles and a 76.2mm gun, and can carry one Ka-27 anti-submarine helicopter.
Moreover, two Russian army bases have recently been opened in the region. Arctic Trefoil, a 150,000 sq ft facility for 150 troops on Alexandra Land, an island in the Franz Josef archipelago and a similar facility on Kotelny, one of the New Siberian Islands. Russia is also expanding its fleet of non-military, nuclear icebreakers as it seeks to dominate the Northern Sea Route for commercial shipping between Europe and Asia. Thirteen new heavy-duty icebreakers will join Russia’s fleet in the Far North by 2035, nine of them nuclear powered. At present, Russia has five active atomic icebreakers. No other country has one.