The Russian Northern Fleet on Long-Term Voyage in the Arctic

Viseadmiral Kulakov, Nordflåten
The destroyer Vice-Admiral Kulakov (of the Udaloy class) is among the Northern Fleet's marine vessels which are on a voyage in the Arctic throughout this late summer and fall. (Photo: Brian Burnell/CC-BY-SA-3.0)

A group of marine vessels of the Northern Fleet is currently on a two-month-long operation in Arctic waters. The purpose is reportedly to ensure safe maritime navigation and economic activity as well as protect Russian territory. At the same time, the fleet's air forces are frequently active.

Norwegian version.

As part of a major Northern Fleet command and staff exercise, a group of marine vessels has embarked on a voyage in the Arctic that will likely last until mid-October. That was reported by the Russian Ministry of Defense last week.

The group comprises the destroyer Vice-Admiral Kulakov, the large landing vessel Alexander Otrakovsky, the rescue and towing vessel Altay, and the tanker Sergey Osipov.

The operation occurs in the Arctic Ocean and along parts of the Northern Sea Route. 

"During this campaign, we will carry out several exercises to ensure secure maritime navigation and other types of maritime economic activity in Russia's Arctic zone, as well as to protect Russian islands and continental territories in the Arctic," says the ship group's commander, Captain Stanislav Varik.

On Friday evening, the ministry wrote that the naval vessels had arrived at Alexandra Land (part of the Franz Josef Land archipelago) for joint training with the forces at the Nagurskoye Air Station and the 'Arctic Trefoil' military base.


This is the Northern Fleet's twelfth voyage of this kind in the Arctic, elaborates the Russian Ministry of Defense, and maintains that this activity is part of a set of measures to protect Russia's interests in Arctic regions.

According to the ministry, similar operations in the previous year have repeatedly involved practicing landing forces and securing ice-resistant stationary platforms at sea.

Whether this information also constitutes a kind of concretization of this year's activities or indicates a change from previous years is difficult to say. But as mentioned, a landing ship is part of the voyage.

Large and complex

The ship group sailed from its home base in Severomorsk during an extensive military exercise, which began on Friday the 11th.

It included 8000 soldiers, 20 marine vessels (including submarines), five aircraft, and around 50 units of military equipment (including special equipment).

Initially, the exercise consisted of trying out various alternatives for managing and coordinating operations to assert Russian sovereignty on the Northern Sea Route, says the Ministry of Defense.

Next, the mentioned voyage was initiated, and coastal troops were relocated with missions to secure communications along the sea route and important objects.

According to the ministry, the exercise activities also included exploring possible areas and conditions for the use of the Northern Fleet's forces in the ocean zone – as well as special operations training to neutralize an opponent's reconnaissance and sabotage groups.

Nordflåtens store øvelse i august 2023
A number of the Northern Fleet's warships, submarines, and support vessels were included in the major exercise earlier in August. (Screenshot from the Russian Ministry of Defense's video of the exercise)

Supervised by the Minister of Defense 

At the same time as the exercise was taking place, Russia's Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu was up north to inspect the Northern Fleet's infrastructure and preparedness, the ministry writes.

Shoigu visited the forces on Novaya Zemlya, among others, and flew over the archipelago's central field for nuclear test explosions, as well as for testing of other types of weapons and military equipment.

Alexey Likhachev, the Director General of Rosatom, also participated in the flight. Rosatom is a Russian state-owned company with the overall responsibility for the country's nuclear power operations. 

In the period 1954-1990, 132 nuclear test explosions were carried out at Novaya Zemlya, according to the ministry. The tests were carried out both in the atmosphere, on and below ground, as well as on and below the sea surface.

Russlands forsvarsminister Sergei Sjojgu
The Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigu, recently inspected the conditions of the Northern Fleet. (Photo: the Russian Ministry of Defense)

Active air forces

The Northern Fleet's air forces are also reported to be in frequent action.

At the same time as the aforementioned ship group sailed to the Arctic Ocean, a group of MiG-31 fighters practiced reconnaissance and interoperability with other forces.

On Wednesday last week, the Ministry of Defense also reported crew changes at Rogachevo airbase on Novaya Zemlya and the aforementioned Nagurskoye airbase on Alexandra Land. Fighters of the MiG-31 and Su-33, and Su-24 bombers operate from these airbases. 

Mandatory service at Novaya Zemlya was introduced in 2021 and contributed to a significant expansion of the Northern Fleet's ability to operate in the Arctic and control the airspace over the Northern Sea Route, the ministry maintains. 

Last week, the Northern Fleet's specialists in unmanned aerial vehicles (drones) and MiG-29K fighters also carried out training activities.

Several drones were flown at approximately 3000 meters altitude over a total of 10 hours. The ministry writes that the focus was on reconnaissance and identifying individual and composite targets. The fighters, for their part, trained to detect and intercept simulated enemy aircraft and practiced air combat.

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This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by Birgitte Annie Molid Martinussen.