Workers tear down some of the old houses in Korzunovo, a half-abandoned military town next to the "tankodrom" (training ground for tanks), for the 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Pechenga on the Kola Peninsula. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Putin orders comprehensive upgrade of military towns on Kola

Houses and infrastructure - largely built in Soviet times - are severely run down with frequent breakdown of basic needs like heating.
April 19, 2022


Zaozyorsk, Vidyaevo, Gadzhiyevo, Snezhnorosk, Polyarny, Aleksandrovsk, Gremikha and Severomorsk. All are closed military cities, so-called ZATOs, along the Barents Sea coast of the Kola Peninsula. Home to navy officers, their families and others supporting the Russian Northern Fleet’s submarines, surface vessels, weapon storages, defense systems and airfields.

Although many of the warships, weapons and military infrastructure are new-built and upgraded to modern standards, the cities themselves are in gravely bad shape. Like in Zaozyorsk, the submarines base only 65 km from the border to Norway, where public utilities are breaking down at the most inappropriate times. Mid-winter, in freezing Polar Night, military commanders don’t want the homes of the crews serving on Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered subs to be left without heating.


Zaozyorsk is closed for all others than naval officers and their families or others with special permission to enter. The town with about 10,000 inhabitants is located to the north from the main road between Murmansk and the border to Norway. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


Renovation needs have been on the table for the Northern Fleet and regional authorities in Murmansk more than once. A few roofs have been changed on blocks of flats, and a couple of playgrounds for children are established. But in overall terms, life can be pretty hard for those contracting the military in Russia’s Arctic regions.

Now, President Putin orders speedy improvements.

“I ask the Government and the Minister of Defense to take control of this issue, to provide a comprehensive modernization of infrastructure, energy, residential and social infrastructure in the ZATOs of the Murmansk region - the main base area of the Northern Fleet,” Putin said at last week’s meeting on Arctic development.


Putin talked to the camera as the other participants were all online from their offices at different locations in Moscow. Amid speculations over his whereabouts in recent weeks, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared lonely on one of the screens on the wall in front of the Russian President’s desk.


Vladimir Putin on Wednesday held a video meeting with key stakeholders on the development of Russia’s Arctic regions. Photo: Kremlin


The Russian President gave a 2024 deadline on when the upgrades of the closed military towns of the Murmansk regions should be ready. That is two years from now.

It was in 2019, the newly appointed Governor of Murmansk region, Andrei Chibis, in a meeting with Putin painted a rather bleak picture of the housing troubles for the armed forces.

He said the living conditions in the closed military towns “won’t hold water.”

“And this is where our military men are living, the people serving in the Northern Fleet, and providing security to our country and geopolitical stability,” Chibis told the President.

“We have to change this situation,” he stressed.


The town of Polyarny on the coast of the Barents Sea. Photo: Thomas Nilsen


Hundreds of soldiers from the Kola Peninsula are currently participating in Russia’s war and lawless actions in Ukraine. Many are killed, including troops from the Northern Fleet’s 200th Motorized Rifle Brigade in Pechenga.

Others, like the soldiers from the 61st Naval Infantry Brigade in Sputnik, are on board amphibious landing vessels now sailing the Black Sea outside Odesa and Crimea.


School bus picking up children from the military garrisons in the Pechenga valley, like Korzunova, Loustari, Upper Loustari and 19 km, all home to soldiers that currently are fighting in Ukraine. Photo: Thomas Nilsen




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