Russia is willing to fight over the Arctic

Friday, October 22nd, 2021

Russia’s Ivan Papanin-class vessels are intended to be remarkably multipurpose ships designed to function as icebreakers, tugboats, transports, refrigerated cargo ships — and warships armed with deadly missiles:

They have an armored hull so they can clear a path through ice without the support of a dedicated icebreaker. “The vessel will be able to promptly deliver modules with repair shops, medical and housing blocks, and also groups of specialists to research and military bases in the Arctic,” said TASS. “The reefer ship will focus on delivering seafood from the Far East to European Russia.”

The first ship of the class – the eponymous Ivan Papanin – was launched in 2019 and is scheduled to be commissioned in 2023.

Armed with Kalibr missiles and a 76.2-millimeter gun, the Ivan Papanins will pack a fair bit of firepower for what is essentially an armed transport. How well such a jack-of-all-trades ship can perform each individual mission remains to be seen. In particular, while the Kalibr is a GPS-guided weapon that can hit long-range targets based on targeting data relayed from distant vessels and satellites, the Ivan Papanins will need a reliable datalink system to take full advantage of the Kalibr’s range.

More significant is the additional evidence that Russia is willing to fight over the Arctic, where melting polar ice is creating new shipping routes and revealing mineral riches. Russia has developed anti-aircraft missiles designed for Arctic conditions, as well as ground vehicles to support Moscow’s Arctic build-up, which also includes MiG-31 fighters, bombers and radar. The U.S. and other nations are responding, including the recent deployment of U.S. B-1 bombers to Norway, and American air and naval facilities in Norway.


  1. McChuck says:

    “melting polar ice is creating new shipping routes”

    That’s obviously why the ship is an icebreaker.

  2. Bob Sykes says:

    It is difficult to see how a third world war can be avoided. SecDef Austin said this week that the door to NATO was open to both Georgia and Ukraine. John Bolton, the Deep State shill, proposed that another QUAD be formed consisting of Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, and the US. The purpose of the QUAD would be to recognize Taiwanese independence and to defend Taiwan against China. And the cherry on the sundae, the US is considering Plan B to force Iranian denuclearization.

    If you live in a major city, or even its suburbs, you are an idiot. Pick up your family and stuff and get far away to some rural refuge. And make friends with your new neighbors.

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    Of course the Russians are willing to fight for the Arctic – it’s their northern frontier, and they are not stupid, unlike some countries one could name, who reject any suggestion that it fight for it’s even more vulnerable southern frontier…

  4. Goober says:

    Anyone that knows Russian history knows that one of their biggest issues is lack of good ports on the European side of their holdings. Efforts to develop warm-water ports have been the root cause for the majority of Russia’s military incursions over the last 150 years.

    The Russo-Japanese war in 1904 was fought largely over the claim to Port Arthur, a warm-water port in Japanese occupied China.

    The occupation of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania in 1939/1940, for a warm water port on the Baltic.

    Their claims to the Crimean pennisula…

    But none of this really solves their problem, because they didn’t get Port arthur, and whatever warm water ports they got in the Baltic and Black seas are not secure during time of war, because the entrances to both the Baltic and the Black seas are absolutely not secure from Russia’s enemies to blockade (and Russia doesn’t have the naval arse to stop them from doing so).

    And so, you’re left with a country that absolutely relies on the control of Arctic waters and Arctic ports to survive, especially in time of war.

    So, of course they’re developing the ability to protect those waters and those ports, and even develop new ones as the sea ice recedes.

    We are folly to see this as an aggressive action. It’s totally understandable. If we’re worried about it, well, then we just need to work on a counter to whatever they’re doing. But wringing hands over such a completely understandable action by Russia is kind of silly. OF COURSE they would do this. OF COURSE the Arctic is important to them.

  5. Goober says:

    Consider this:

    A blockade in the Gulf of Aden, and on the Atlantic side of Gibraltar, would deny Russia every Black Sea Port, well outside of their “force projection” ability to do anything about it.

    A blockade of the North Sea and English Channel, likewise on the Baltic ports.

    This literally leaves them with NO PORTS whatsoever, other than Archangelsk, which is, indeed, open year-round, but is extremely constrained on approach when the sea ice is at high levels, meaning you’re channeling ALL of your commerce through a narrow channel, right off the coast of multiple NATO nations. So even Archangelsk would be an easy blockade, again, mostly outside of Russia’s ability to project force to do anything about it (outside of submarines).

    So opening new Arctic Ports, and maintaining free navigation abilities in the Arctic is completely essential to Russia. In the event of war with NATO, any materials they do not have inside their borders (ie, anything they need to import), will only be able to come to them by Pacific ports across Siberia.

    I would anticipate that outside of anti-submarine war, that the real naval conflict will revolve around the Sea of Ohktosk or whatever, in the Pacific, where I’d assume most Russian commerce would have to come and go, after making the trans-Siberian run.

    So they’re in a tough strategic situation, navally speaking, in the event of non-nuclear war.

  6. Albion says:

    IIRC, the arctic waters periodically become ice free as part of the natural swings of our planet’s climate (Sorry, climate lunatics; the moods of Mother Earth defy your simple moans and little girl tearful speeches).

    But, as often as northern waters briefly allow the passage of ships, they close up again so a ship with the capability to break its way through ice is a must. I am more intrigued by its need to be an aggressive weapon of war as I am not sure which nation, other than maybe Norway or Canada, might be willing to build a ship capable of attacking and breaking any supply lines.

    Plus, out of curiosity, should it be a submarine attack, what is the effectiveness of torpedoes in icy waters?

  7. Mike in Boston says:

    In the event of war with NATO… anything they need to import will only be able to come to them by Pacific ports across Siberia.

    Seems like the Russians might want to boost their rail links with China, and in fact that is already happening.

  8. Goober says:

    “I am not sure which nation, other than maybe Norway or Canada, might be willing to build a ship capable of attacking and breaking any supply lines.”

    You wouldn’t really need to. I would definitely think that the NATO side would use blockade methods that would allow the blockade to be quite distant from the actual need to “break ice”. It would almost be necessary to do so, since Russia would possess the capability in their air forces to contest a “close” blockade. That’s why I think, personally, that Russia would be blockaded in the Gulf of Aden, Gibraltar, and the North Sea. Those would be well outside Russia’s ability to strike back against those blockades, and would also be entirely ice free.

    The only ports we might have some trouble truly blockading would all be on the Pacific side. Vladivostok wouldn’t be terribly difficult, since it’s in the Sea of Japan, but any other ports (I’m not terribly familiar with Russian Pacific port facilities) say, in the Sea of Ohktosk or Kamchatka might be more difficult to shut down. However, the land-side logistics of Russia relying on Pacific ports and trans-siberian transport would be nasty.

    Which is why I’m thinking that their strategy is to keep ports like Archangelsk and Murmansk open FROM THE PACIFIC side, shipping through the Arctic Ocean using these ships. At that point, other than blockading the Bering Straits using either naval or air forces, a much more risky proposition for NATO since that’s directly off the coast of Russia, there’s not much we could do to stop them. Russia may consider themselves capable of keeping the Bering Straits open using their air forces (although I doubt they actually consider themselves navally capable of doing much), and i would anticipate, strategically, that the Bering Sea and Bering Straits would be the most contested area, navally, in a NATO/Russia confrontation.

  9. Goober says:

    I say “gulf of Aden” and not at the Suez canal, because I’m not really willing to assume that Egypt would be on NATO’s side, and may well allow the transport of Russian freight. If we tried to blockade at Suez, it would have to be within the territorial waters of Egypt, which would be an act of war against Egypt. The Gulf of Aden, however, would totally be on the table, and not terribly difficult, assuming Iran doesn’t join on Russia’s side (and if they do, I think NATO could deal with Iran pretty quickly).

  10. Gavin Longmuir says:

    While it is unfortunately possible to imagine Biden (really, his handlers) starting a war with Russia, mostly out of Biden-style arrogance & stupidity, it is tough to see how any war between NATO and Russia would not end up going nuclear. Whichever side found itself losing would go nuclear rather than accept defeat.

    Realistically, the first action in any NATO war against Russia would be Russia’s shutting off the gas which keeps “green” Europe from reverting to the Middle Ages. With German industry shutting down and German pensioners freezing to death in the dark, NATO would collapse into internal squabbles.

    Maybe the weapons on the Ivan Papanin are there to deal with icebergs? Maybe the ship had to be armed in order to get funding from the Russian military budget?

  11. Szopen says:

    I remember when one ship few years ago was trying to circumnavigate the arctic. They became too bold and had to retreat and wait few more days; the idiots on blogs I frequent were boosting this news with delight, screaming about those climate-lunatic idiots, while sharing fake photos of ice-frozen ship. When few days later the ship reassumed the travel and when it finally did succeed, all those idiots were silent. Unfortunately, the climate change issue become a tribal signal and people stop to think when discussing it.

    Arctic is becoming more and more suitable for sea-travel and tonnage of goods shipped through it is rising every year. While melting eternal frost in Siberia is making some infrastructural problems, overall Russia is and will be even more in a future, a huge beneficiary of the climate change.

  12. McChuck says:


    We only have to interdict the Bosporus and the Danish straights to cut Russia off from most sea trade. Both of these can be cut off by land powers that are already friendly to us and hostile to Russia.

  13. Gavin Longmuir says:

    People! People! Let’s get serious before fantasizing about interdicting trade to Russia.

    Russia exports by sea a little commodity called oil — without which Europe stumbles to a stop. Remember the EU is one of the world’s largest oil importers. And Russia exports by sea another commodity called grain — without which Europe gets very hungry.

    Starting a war with Russia would require massive government interventions in Western economies on a scale which would make the Covid Lock Downs seem trivial — forced car-pooling, food rationing, even greater restrictions on liberty. Does anyone really believe that Western governments still have enough respect and trust from their respective populations to do that without triggering internal rebellions?

  14. Szopen says:


    I agree with respect to oil, but food? Not really. The EU is a net exporter of food (both in trade with Russia, and with the world).

  15. Gavin Longmuir says:


    Thank you. I stand corrected.

    Russia is the world’s largest grain exporter — but mainly to Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Europe supplies its own grain, thanks in part to fertilizers based on Russian gas.

    The general point about the fantasy of blockading Russia by sea remains. If Turkey blocks the Bosporus, Turkey would lose its essential grain imports from Russia — and would incur instant enmity from key fellow Islamists, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. It is a good guess that Turkey would not agree with NATO to block the Bosporus.

    Countries are economically much more inter-dependent today than they were in the 1930s, in the run-up to WWII. First consequence of any NATO war with Russia would be to disrupt those supply chains in ways that would probably surprise us all — causing immense domestic unrest in all the NATO countries.

    In the real world, blockading Russia would cause very significant, immediate pain to NATO countries. We should keep that in mind while fantasizing about military action.

  16. Goober says:


    I’d hazard that the Bosporus would, indeed, be a spot where we COULD interdict Russian trade, but I would argue not an optimal location.

    A blockade at the Bosporus would still be within the strike distance capabilities of the Russian Black Sea fleet, as well as fighters and bombers scrambled from Crimea/Sochi areas. So, in essence, it wouldn’t be an uncontested blockade. It could theoretically be contested with air, surface, and submarine assets.

    I’ve always been a fan of the more distant blockade efforts, since the only reasonable way that Russia could contest them would be through submarine warfare, which I submit would be easier to handle if surface and air threats weren’t an issue.

  17. Goober says:


    In a situation where NATO was at war with Russia, I highly doubt that a blockade of Russia would be the cause of Russian exports being denied to NATO countries. Blockade or not, those exports stop, and the NATO countries would need to find alternatives.

    I guess I’m not entirely sure what you’re trying to say. Are you suggesting that in a war with Russia, as long as we don’t blockade them, that they’d continue exporting to hostile nations?

  18. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Goober: “I’ve always been a fan of the more distant blockade efforts, since the only reasonable way that Russia could contest them would be through submarine warfare …”

    That is a very limited view of potential Russian responses.

    A blockade is a Declaration of War, and Russia has Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. If Russia wanted to be nice, they could respond to foolish NATO aggression by dropping a dummy warhead (kinetic energy only) on top of the Houses of Parliament. Tomorrow, if the blockade has not been lifted, it will be the real thing.

    Your premise seems to be that Russia would behave in military matters like the US — tie itself down with impossible Rules of Engagement and then suffer for years. That is likely to prove to be a bad premise.

    I am suggesting that in any confrontation with Russia, Russia’s first action would be to cut off exports to Europe, condemning Europe to freezing in the dark and stimulating popular uprisings in NATO countries against their own governments. If the confrontation went beyond trade into the military sphere, Europe would be destroyed.

    Don’t waste time imagining that Russia would fight a war with one hand tied behind its back. Europe’s days at the center of world history are over. Live with it!

  19. TRX says:

    In 1940 the weather was warm enough to Soviet icebreakers to clear a passage for the German cruiser Komet, which emerged at the Bering Strait and headed out to attack British shipping in the South Pacific.

    The Komet sank only seven ships, but it spent over 500 days at sea and logged over 100,000 nautical miles, completing its voyage by sailing around the world back to Germany.

    In the greater scheme of things, the Komet did little other than reminding people that the northern passage should be accounted for when making plans, but the ship’s voyage was made out of awesome even if they were the bad guys. The Wikipedia page only gives a skeletal outline of its accomplishments.

  20. szopen says:

    Well today passage might be done without assistance from ice-breakers – and of course, another difference is not one or two exceptionally warm years, but two decades of almost exclusively exceptionally warm years.

Leave a Reply