During the slotxo Cold War, Russia's Nagurskoye airbase was little more than a runway, a weather station and a communications outpost in the Franz Josef Land archipelago.
It was a remote and desolate home mostly for polar bears, where temperatures plunge in winter to minus-42 Celsius (43 degrees below zero Fahrenheit) and the snow only disappears from August to mid-September.
Now, Russia's northernmost military base is bristling with missiles and radar and its extended runway can handle all types of aircraft, including nuclear-capable strategic bombers, projecting Moscow's power and influence across the Arctic amid intensifying international competition for the region's vast resources.
The shamrock-shaped facility - three large pods extending from a central atrium - is called the “Arctic Trefoil” and is painted in the white-red-and-blue of the national flag, brightening the otherwise stark vantage point on the 5,600-kilometer. (3,470-mile) Northern Sea Route along Russia's Arctic coast. Other buildings on the Island, which is called Alexandra Land, are used for radar and communications, a weather station, oil storage, hangars and construction facilities.
Russia has sought to assert its influence over wide areas of the Arctic in competition with the United States, Canada, Denmark and Norway as shrinking polar ice from the warming planet offers new opportunities for resources and shipping routes. China also has shown an increasing interest in the region, believed to hold up to one-fourth of the Earth's undiscovered oil and gas.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited estimates that put the value of Arctic mineral riches at $ 30 trillion.
Tensions between Russia and the West will likely loom large over Thursday's meeting of the Arctic nations' foreign ministers in Reykjavik, Iceland, where Moscow is set to take a rotating chairmanship in the Arctic Council.
“We have concerns about some of the recent military activities in the Arctic,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Tuesday after arriving in Iceland for talks with foreign ministers of the eight members of the Arctic Council. “That increases the dangers of accidents and miscalculations and undermines the shared goal of a peaceful and sustainable future for the region. So we have to be vigilant about that. ”
The Russian base, which sits about 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) south of the geographic North Pole, was built using new construction technologies as part of Kremlin efforts to bolster the military amid spiraling tensions with the West following Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.
The following year, Russia submitted a revised bid for vast territories in the Arctic to the United Nations, claiming 1.2 million square kilometers (over 463,000 square miles) of Arctic sea shelf, extending more than 350 nautical miles (650 kilometers) from shore.
While the U.N. pondered that claim and those from other nations, Russia has said it sees the Northern Sea Route as its “historically developed national transport corridor,” requiring authorization from Moscow for foreign vessels to navigate along it. The U.S. has dismissed Russia's claims of jurisdiction on parts of the route as illegitimate.
Moscow has declared its intention to introduce procedures for foreign ships and assign Russian pilots for guidance along the route, which runs from Norway to Alaska.
As part of that effort, Russia has rebuilt and expanded facilities across the polar region, deploying surveillance and defensive assets. A base in the similar trefoil shape and patriotic colors to the one in Nagurskoye is on Kotelny Island, between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on eastern end of the shipping route, also with missiles and radar.