Russia’s first combat icebreaker: weapon against US in the Arctic?

MOSCOW – Developed to carry out autonomous Arctic missions and integrated into naval combat groups, Russia’s new armed icebreaker can also perform escort tasks in the Arctic zone.

The Russian icebreaker Ivan Papanin was launched on October 25 in the Russian city of St. Petersburg, scheduled for delivery in 2021.

With a reinforced ice hull and 60-day autonomy, the ship has a displacement of 8,500 tons, 100 meters long and 20 meters wide. In addition, the vessel is armed with a naval cannon and has a helicopter platform.

Arctic Presence

Russian newspaper columnist Vzglyad Aleksandr Timokhin described the launch of Ivan Papanin as an “extremely important event.”

According to the analyst, a war with the US is possible but highly unlikely. And it’s even less likely to involve icebreakers because Washington has a powerful fleet of submarines. However, armed incidents and provocations can happen, said Timokhin.

“The presence of two military icebreakers in Russia guarantees the failure of an American provocation involving such ships on the North Sea Route,” he said in his article.

The second icebreaker of the 23550 project is the Nikolai Zubov, expected to be built by 2020.

For the expert, the Russian icebreaker fleet focuses on commercial use. Fleet ships are nonmilitary and perform a variety of nonmilitary tasks because Russia has huge infrastructure in the Arctic : ports, oil production platforms, gas liquefaction plants, cities – all of which require maintenance.

The journalist notes that, unlike Russia, all future American icebreakers will be part of its Coast Guard and will not have to track merchant ships or maintain infrastructure because the US simply does not have them in the Arctic.

Northern Maritime Route

Earlier this year, the US Coast Guard said it needed six new icebreakers to compete with Russia in the Arctic , aiming for greater control over the promising Northern Maritime Route.

“Why do they need so many icebreakers? Well, the answer is easy: damage Russia on the Northern Maritime Route […] As they tried to do in the 60s, they will create all kinds of scandals and small crises at risk of using weapons,” said Timokhin.

Though seemingly insignificant, such actions “would do political damage to Russia’s reputation and undermine the reliability of the Northern Maritime Route.”

“Given that the Americans plan to enter the Arctic with all their might, the new Russian military icebreakers are very timely. They are a little ahead of their opponents. And that is very good,” the author concludes.

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