Russia creates two brigades of Arctic troops

Fri Jul 1, 2011 5:17pm BST

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* General Staff working on plan to boost presence in Arctic

* Russia set to start producing Bulava nuclear missile

By Thomas Grove

MOSCOW, July 1 (Reuters) - Moscow will create two brigades to protect its valuable Arctic resources, Russia's defence minister said on Friday.

Moscow has walked a fine line between cooperation and aggression in the Arctic which the world's top energy producer believes could hold huge reserves of natural gas and oil.

"The General Staff is currently working on plans to create two such units," Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov was quoted as telling media by state-run news agency Itar-Tass.

Declining to go into detail, he added: "The location will be determined, as well as weapons, numbers and infrastructure for the brigades."

Global warming has boosted expectations that the Arctic may provide mining, fishing and shipping prospects for the countries that have claims on the region -- Russia, the United States, Denmark, Greenland, Canada, Norway and China.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that Russia would boost its presence in the region to protect its interests.

"As for our own geo-political interests (in the Arctic) are concerned, we shall be protecting them firmly and consistently," Putin told a meeting of his ruling United Russia party on Thursday in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

Late last year Russia delineated new Arctic borders with Norway and agreed to ease frontier controls in the hope of further cooperation in oil and gas exploration.

Russian gas export monopoly Gazprom (GAZP.MM) runs two major gas projects in the Arctic, including one with Statoil (STL.OL), while state-run oil major Rosneft (ROSN.MM) and BP (BP.L) operate at three Kara Sea fields.

Serdyukov also said that Russia was in a position to start production of its intercontinental Bulava missile following the most recent successful test of the armament this week.

His ministry has said the missile, which the Kremlin wants to make the cornerstone of its nuclear arms programme, will undergo four more tests this year before being introduced into service.

Previous failures -- seven out of 15 tests -- had called into question the viability of the programme.

"The Bulava flew well. And that's good news," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. "We understand exactly that in this case it is possible to start serial production of the rocket."

Russia is looking to modernise its armaments and Putin has promised to spend nearly 20 trillion roubles ($718.4 billion) over the next decade upgrading its armed forces.

One missile can hold six to 10 nuclear warheads, which would deliver an impact of up to 100 times the atomic blast that devastated Hiroshima in 1945. (Editing by Robert Woodward)