Despite its large land mass and the fact that Russia has ports in all four directions, the number of ports are relatively small. The usefulness of the Russian ports are also often limited due to both climatic conditions and the long transport distances.
In the north, only the larger ports in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk have international status, and of these, only Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula in the furthest north can handle regular traffic all year round. At the Arkhangelsk area in the bay south of the Kola Peninsula, a thick, impenetrable ice is formed in the winter.
A statistical assumption is that the Russian revenue for the ports in the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea is four times as large as that for the ports of Murmansk and Arkhangelsk in the Barents Sea.
The above was written by FOI associates Tomas Malmlöf & Johan Tejpar in their FOI publication ”Ett skepp kommer lastat” published in 2013.
Military in Kola
The following information is from 2015 and it gives a picture of the importance Russia attribute to the Barents region. These are bases planned and/or existing in 2015:
The Alakurtti airbase with the Marine bombardiers.
The newly deployed 80:th independent motorised rifle infantry brigade, one of Russias two Arctic brigades at Alakurtti.
The other newly deployed brigade, the Arctic 200:th independent mechanized infantry brigade, is located in Pechenga, former finnish Petsamo, and it is adjacent to Norway.
13 Airbases and 10 air defense radar stations have been constructed or were to be constructed on Russia’s Arctic coast, according to PISM (Polish Institute of International Affairs).
They also have an Air defense division, a coastal missile defense and a missile regiment. At least they were supposed to be built in the Kola peninsula in 2015.
A deployed S-500 Triumph in Kola can cover the Swedish airbase Kallax in Luleå, if the S-500 is deployed near the Finnish border. But it is not optimal, to try to shoot down cargo-airplanes approaching Kallax, with the S-500 system deployed in Russia. If you fly under a certain altitude while coming in to land at Kallax the Russian radarbeam is going to fail to detect you because your flying in radar shadow. We are talking about altitudes under ~9,000 m, so it is not realistic to think that an S-500 can do the job since the cargo-airplane under any circumstances will come in to land under an altitude of 9,000 m, thus under the radar horizon. Both the 400 km range variant of the S-400 and the 600 km range S-500 are optimized for interception of ballistic missiles, not shooting down airplanes, for these reasons. There are other S-400 variants with shorter range for shooting down enemy aircrafts. Air defense missile systems are used or should best be used for defensive purposes. It’s not an offensive weapon.
Not even the exit and the entrance to the Baltic Sea through the Danish Great Belt and the Swedish-Danish Öresund or even the Kiel canal plays any absolute role if Russia are developing the infrastructure in the Murmansk region, with its ports, its navy and its Airports.
NATO can lock in Russia in the Baltic region, if Russia tries something fatal in the Baltic region, leading to issues. Has the Murmansk railway to Severomorsk been kept in condition? Has the Port of Severomorsk been developed? Has the airport in Murmansk been developed? And so on.
The actions speak for themselves, according to the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), 16 deep-water ports will be built on Russia’s Arctic coast.
Of course reality is that NATO is probably not going to blockade Russia in the Baltic region, because to many NATO countries are dependent on Russian energy. The Netherlands with its port in Rotterdam is a European energy hub. What remains are sanctions, but how effective would that be? Thus, there would only be one solution if Russia attack the Baltic states – war.
What do you think? Do you think the biggest implications with a bypass of the Baltic region will be military and economically coercive in the Barents and/or in the Baltic region, or do you think the implications will be just economical? Explain your conclusions please.
PISM (Polish Institute of International Affairs), 2015.
The FOI publication ”Ett skepp kommer lastat”, published in 2013. Cited with permission.
Roger M. Klang, defense political Spokesman for the Christian Values Party (Kristna Värdepartiet) in Sweden