WW4 File: Russia bans civilian flights to/from Novaya Zemlya as of August 1, only military aircraft permitted to fly to Arctic archipelago; 100 residents stranded in Arkhangelsk; base for nuclear weapons tests during Soviet era, islands once again restricted area for Russian military activity
August 29, 2012Posted by on
More than 100 civilian residents of Novaya Zemlya, reported the Barents Observer on August 24, are stranded in Arkhangelsk, unable to return home after the Russian Air Traffic Agency (Rosaviatsia) banned civilian aircraft from flying to the Russian Arctic archipelago. In July, Rosaviatsia announced the new regulations, which came into effect on August 1. Rosaviatsia argues that the stranded passengers are the responsibility of the Ministry of Defence, while the ministry says it only handles military personnel. Novaya Zemlya has about 2,900 inhabitants, most of them living in the administrative center of Belushya Guba, which is served by Rogachevo airport.
Novaya Zemlya was heavily militarized during the Cold War and this past summer once again assumed that status. This island chain in the Arctic Ocean was one of the most militarized and politically closed regions in Russia. Between the mid-1950s and 1990, nuclear weapons were tested in the area, while nuclear weapons researchers still use the area for sub-critical nuclear weapon tests.
On May 30, Kremlin-run Novosti, citing the Western Military Districts’s aviation commander, Major General Igor Makushev, reported that “selected air units” will this summer instigate preparations to return to Arctic airfields abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. “We will start reopening airfields on Novaya Zemlya and in Naryan-Mar as early as this summer,” Makushev told a news conference in St. Petersburg. Next year, the Russian Air Force, which is pressing head with the development of a stealth bomber to rival the US Air Force’s B-2 Spirit, will reactivate a military airfield on Graham Bell Island, which is part of Franz Josef Land.
In July 2011, Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov revealed that two military brigades would be stationed in Murmansk or Arkhangelsk to protect Russia’s political and economic interests in the circumpolar region, especially to reinforce its oil and gas claims under the Arctic Ocean.
Meanwhile, through the implementation of joint military drills on US soil, unprecedented during the Cold War, US and Canadian servicemen are growing more and more used to perceiving (wrongly) their Russian counterparts as “allies,” not enemies. At the same time, Russian military personnel now have opportunities to observe, openly and firsthand, US and Canadian military facilities, technology, and operations. This is also the rationale behind the Open Skies Treaty.
Between August 27 and 29, NORAD and Russia will carry out the third Vigilant Eagle anti-terrorist drill, which simulates airline hijackings in both Russia and Alaska but entails real aerial intercepts by Russian and NORAD military pilots.
“The Vigilant Eagle 2012 exercises will be held on August 27-29. They are aimed at practicing interaction between the Russian armed forces and the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in case of a terrorist attack on a passenger airliner,” said Col. Alexander Gordeyev, who represents Russia’s Eastern Military District. In the event of a Russian preemptive strike, of course, knowledge of NORAD’s command and control will be of inestimable value to the Kremlin warmongers.
The first Vigilant Eagle took place in 2010. This year, exercise headquarters are situated in Colorado Springs and Anchorage, as well as Khabarovsk and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, two cities in the Russian Far East. The Russian units will be led by Maj. Gen. Sergei Dronov, commander of the Eastern Military District’s Third Air Force and Air Defense Command, and NORAD’s units by Joseph Bonnet III, NORAD’s training and exercise director.
“The first group led by Maj. Gen. Dronov will operate as part of the main headquarters in Colorado Springs,” Gordeyev said. “The second group led by Maj. Gen. Sergei Zhmurin, the head of the Eastern Military District’s Air Defense and Aviation, will take part in the work of the secondary headquarters in Anchorage,” he said. Thus, we see that Russian generals will be on site at military bases in Colorado Springs and Anchorage.
In its typical post-Cold War ho-hum “Russia’s our friend” mindset, NORAD described Vigilant Eagle in the following way:
The basic premise is that a foreign flagged commercial air carrier on an international flight has been seized by terrorists. The aircraft will not respond to communications. The exercise scenario creates a situation that requires both the Russian Air Force and NORAD to launch or divert fighter aircraft to investigate and follow the aircraft. The drills will focus on the cooperative hand-off of the aircraft between fighter aircraft of the participating nations.
These exercises continue to foster the development of cooperation between the Russian Federation Air Force and NORAD in preventing possible threats of air terrorism.
Vigilant Eagle follows this past May’s first-ever joint US-Russian paratrooper drill at Fort Carson, located near Colorado Springs, Peterson Air Force Base, and NORAD’s Alternate Command Center under Cheyenne Mountain. This “anti-terrorist” exercise and goodwill gesture was evocative of the original Red Dawn film (1984), which depicted a Soviet-Cuban invasion of the USA. Incidentally, though, the first-ever joint US-Russian military exercise on US soil actually took place at Fort Riley, Kansas in 1995.