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Futuristic army complex resides far above the Arctic Circle

By Amanda Schmidt, AccuWeather staff writer
April 10, 2019, 9:45:13 AM EDT

A futuristic army complex resides far above the Arctic Circle in a region where there is no sunlight from November through January and nothing but sunshine (when it's not cloudy) 24 hours a day from May to August.

The army base was constructed after Russian president Vladimir Putin realized the strategic and economic potential of his country's northern frontier, AFP reports. The outpost is dubbed the Northern Clover (or Severny Klever in Russian), a nod to its trefoil shape, and is painted in white, blue and red -- the colors of the Russian national flag.

The Northern Clover is located on Kotelny Island, part of the New Siberian Islands in the eastern Arctic. The Russians strategically situated the remote base between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea on the Arctic shipping route. Not surprisingly, the weather is constantly frigid in an area that remote and though the seasons technically change, it seems as if perpetual winter has taken hold.

Temperatures most of the year are below freezing there, based on NOAA climate data collected from 1961 to 1990. The only months with an average temperature above freezing are July and August, according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Steve Travis.

The average temperature is minus 18 degrees Fahrenheit, and the average in January and February is right around minus 22 F. Those numbers are monthly averages, and it can get much colder than that in a typical winter with temperatures bottoming out at 58 below zero.

And the troops stationed at the Northern Clover dress appropriately. They wear a white polar uniform to combat the punishing cold that greets them when they venture outside the facilities. Air temperatures plummet so low that vehicles designed for such unforgiving conditions can give out.

Some 250 military personnel are stationed at the base and, according to The Associated Press, they are charged with maintaining air and sea surveillance facilities and coastal defenses like anti-ship missiles.

Why has Russia stationed this band of troops in one of the planet's most remote and forbidding places?

Putin has made it a priority to lay claim to the Arctic region because he sees great economic potential underneath all that snow and ice. Up to one-quarter of earth's undiscovered oil and gas reserves are believed to be lurking deep below, the AP reports. Putin made getting the base operational a top priority in 2014, and the project was completed in record time -- one of reportedly 475 military sites the country has built since 2013.

Russia Army in Arctic- Northern Clover

In this photo taken on Wednesday, April 3, 2019, a Russian solder stands guard as Pansyr-S1 air defense system on the Kotelny Island, part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago located between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea, Russia. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

According to CNN, Russia has three military bases north of the 75th parallel, a demonstration of just how much stock Putin puts in the region, which he has repeatedly insisted is critical to Russia's future prosperity. He also may be sending a message to the West, as the Northern Clover is actually closer to Alaska than it is to Moscow.

The base is formerly a Soviet military post, and like many Arctic outposts, it was abandoned in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. These days, it's as impressive in its efficiency as it is in its faraway locale. And the Russians, proud of their new futuristic base, clamored to show it off to Western media.

"The Northern Clover is the first permanent facility for the Russian armed forces where they can live autonomously," Vladimir Pasechnik, the commander of the Northern Fleet's tactical unit, said as he gave a tour to journalists from AFP and other outlets.

“There’s a system of closed communication and tunnels between facilities that save the soldiers from unfavorable weather conditions,” Pasechnik added. “Our water and food reserves can last a year.”

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Inside, the base is equipped with modern facilities and amenities that aim to attract recruits to the island, where the remote location and frigid temperatures may discourage potential candidates.

A video posted by AFP shows soldiers playing billiards and ping pong, as well as lifting weights and working out in a gym with various equipment. The facility also contains a sauna and a cafeteria.

There is no internet or telephone connection at the base, but the soldiers have all the hot water they need, AFP reports. A snow-melting and heating system developed for Arctic units can store up to 20,000 cubic meters of water for the winter period.

Russia's Arctic military base- Northern Clover

On Wednesday, April 3, 2019, Russian military's Bastion missile launchers are seen moving toward the Severny Klever (Northern Clover) Russian military base on Kotelny Island, part of the New Siberian Islands archipelago located between the Laptev Sea and the East Siberian Sea, Russia. (AP Photo/Vladimir Isachenkov)

The Arctic climate presents unique experiences, discoveries and challenges.

“Sometimes bears come to visit us but they don’t bring much trouble, we live like neighbors with them,” a soldier by the name of Umar Erkenov told AFP.

The military also has embarked on a major a cleanup effort. Crews are working to remove tens of thousands of tons of waste from the Arctic territories, the AP reports. including rusty fuel tanks left behind by the Soviet military, AP reports.

Analysts told AP that the move has alarmed Russia’s neighbors.

“In Russia, the Northern sea route has been described as a bonanza with lots of potential of economic development,” Flemming Splidsboel Hansen of the Danish Institute for International Studies explained to the AP. “And that’s why there is a need for military capacity in the area. It is likely meant as defensive, but it is being interpreted by the West as offensive.”

Kristian Soeby Kristensen, a researcher at Copenhagen University in Denmark, told AP the Russia activity in the Arctic region is most concerning to Norway.

"Norway is a small country, whose next-door neighbor is mighty Russia, which has placed the bulk of its military capacity right next to them,” Soeby Kristensen said. “Norway is extraordinarily worried.”

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