On January 13th 2015, Russian Northern Fleet Commander, Admiral Vladimir Korolyov, checked personnel accommodation and military base infrastructure readiness at the first Arctic command formed in the rural locality of Allakurtti in Murmansk Oblast. Shortly before, the first special train had brought military personnel of the Arctic motorised rifle brigade of the Northern Fleet coastal defence troops to Alakurtti. According to Russia’s Ministry of Defence, the personnel will start full-scale combat training in the near future. The media have concurrently reported the deployment of 800 soldiers to Alakurtti. At the same time, construction and repair work on infrastructure recovery is being carried on in the rural locality. Two barracks and a dining facility have been put into service.
Alakurtti village together with the Old Salla region were ceded to the Soviet Union from Finland under the Moscow Peace Treaty signed in 1940. After the end of the war, the Soviet Union deployed several military units to this territory. The Russian military withdrew them from Alakurtti only in 2009. After 2009, the village and the Soviet military infrastructure started turning into a ruin. This process was accompanied by the encountered problems of heat supply. In 2012, the Russian Ministry of Defence had plans to get rid of real estate properties in the village.
The decision to reactivate Russia’s military unit deployment in Alakurtti was made at the end of 2013. In mid-February 2014, Colonel General Anatoly Sidorov, Commander of the Western Military District troops, announced that one of the military bases would be rebuilt by September the same year. However, he did not specify what bases. In early March 2014, Murmansk Oblast authorities claimed that the Northern Fleet had plans to rebuild two military bases in Alakurtti before the end of 2014. At the same time, 3,000 military personnel were about to be deployed to the new duty station. Concurrently, Kremlin-close media started a rumour with reference to the Russian Navy that the point was to return the radio-radar intelligence regiment to this region with the aim of monitoring foreign military transfers in the northern and the Arctic regions. Russian Ministry of Defence officials have neither confirmed nor denied this information yet.
In summer 2014, nearly 400 workmen began rebuilding the infrastructure of the military base. 1,200 soldiers were planned to be deployed to the village before September 2014. Meanwhile, the information on deploying the Northern Fleet radio-radar intelligence regiment in Alakurtti was kept circulating by the media. At the same time, the information imported through Russian media linked that to Russia’s plans to reinforce its strategic interests in the Arctic region, but not to expect a threat from the West. According to the statements, the regiment was tasked to monitor the airwaves and supply data for the service arms’ Chief Commands and the MoD’s central bodies.
In November 2014, it was announced that the 80th separate motorised rifle brigade would be deployed to Alakurtti. According to our estimations, Russia’s deployment of troops to the military base in Alakurtti could have two main goals:
1. Creation of a training camp in order to prepare troops that will be deployed in the future to the Arctic region.The existing flight landing strip will ensure quick deployment of troops just at the bases built-up in the Arctic region.
2. Despite the fact that Finnish leadership has shown no determination to enter the NATO yet, the Kremlin could intensify its demonstrative military bases’ deployment near the border with Finland. But, in our opinion, such activity, on the contrary, is likely to provoke Helsinki into entering the Alliance. The base in Alakurtti is the best possible for both striking Finland’s key air bases and repelling an air attack on Saint-Petersburg from the north and on the Northern Fleet naval base from the south-west. The base’s geography could speak for possible military airfield reconstruction, capable of accommodating multirole combat aircraft, as well as deploying air defence objects there.But the level of military airfield concentration in this area with account of bases in Monchegorsk, Murmansk, and near Olenegorsk reduces the likelihood of this possibility.
The base in Alakurtti is unsuitable for deploying nuclear missile strike systems over its proximity to the border.
It is also important to note that the territory of Karelia, along with the other territories ceded to the Soviet Union in 1940 following the Winter War, are regions of high geopolitical risk to Russia as they may face a problem of economic secessionism. Despite the fact that Russians are the dominating ethnic group in the region, and their share has been increasing (from 73.6 per cent to 82.2 per cent after 1989), the secessionist movements in the Republic of Karelia are well developed.
Numerous calls for a referendum on either establishing broader autonomy or an independent state, or accession of a part or all of Karelian territory to Finland have been voiced. NGOs have been actively working against the Veps’ and the Karelians’ assimilation with the Russian population. The local population clearly understands the difference between the living standards in Russia and neighbouring Finland, thus laying a definite social basis for not only ethnic, but also social and economic secessionism. According to our sources, some protestant churches in the region are also promoting secessionist ideas.
The Alakurtti base deployment, in Moscow’s opinion, will enable the creation of additional workspaces and undercut the depressiveness in the area and reduce secessionist moods at the same time. Under current conditions, deployment of soldiers in this area will probably facilitate the preventive strategic steps of militarily securing Russia’s geopolitical interests at its western boundaries.
This article was written and prepared by Da Vinci AG - an analytic, consulting and intelligence company based in Kyiv.