Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Russia Launches New Icebreaker Dedicated to Ensuring Supplies Reach Arctic Bases

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 28 – Reflecting the Kremlin’s increasing focus on security rather than trade and development in the Arctic, Moscow has decided to develop and launch a new fleet of icebreakers devoted solely to military tasks rather than committed as most now are to keeping the way open along the Northern Sea Route or in major harbors.

            Ten days ago, shipbuilders in St. Petersburg released from its covered construction dock the Yevpatory Kolovrat, the first of these military-dedicated icebreakers. That is a milestone but the ship will now undergo what are likely to be months of fittings and then trials before it joins the military fleet (topwar.ru/177290-strojaschijsja-dlja-minoborony-ledokol-evpatij-kolovrat-vyveden-iz-jellinga.html).

            The keel of the new diesel-electric ship, which is a modification of the Ilya Murosmets was laid in December 2018. It is smaller – 4800 tons as against 6,000 tons – and has a smaller draft – 4.6 meters as against 7 meters – and thus can go into rivers or approach the shore where Russian military facilities in the north are located.

            Despite being a military vessel, there are now plans for it to be fitted with guns or other weapons, although the designers say that it can be rapidly outfitted with relatively small guns in the event of a crisis. They also say that the ship, named in honor of a Russian knight who defeated Baty Khan in the 13th century will join the fleet two years from now.

            That the new ship is committed to military use alone restores a Soviet-era practice. Between 1960 and 1979, the Soviet Union built 32 icebreakers of which 12 were devoted solely to supporting the military. All but one of the 12 was scrapped in the 1990s (svpressa.ru/war21/article/282315/).

            One detail Russian commentators have made much of is that the Yevpatory Kolovrat is basically unarmed while many of the civilian icebreakers including the largest ones which are nuclear powered have significant heavy weapons systems on them. This suggests that the military icebreakers are intended to help supplies reach bases rather than for force projection.

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