ICY RELATIONS

Russia’s Defense Ministry is using reindeer photos to send a coded message to the world

Obsession
Propaganda
Obsession
Propaganda

A first glance, the Russian military’s latest promotional photos are hard to take seriously: Released on Jan. 24, handout images of infantry drills in Russia’s Murmansk Oblast region feature troops bundled in all-white, toting white guns and cozying up to local fauna, including huskies and reindeer. The exercises pictured do not make clear what kind of modern military conflict would require a sturdy reindeer.

This theatrical posturing is nothing new for the Russian military, which performed a similar exercise in the Murmansk region just about a year ago. But it’s not to be taken lightly.

Russian serviceman of Northern Fleet's Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participates in military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk
We have mastered armored-canine-vehicular transport. (Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout via Reuters)
Russian servicemen of Northern Fleet's Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participate in military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk
Russian servicemen of the Northern Fleet’s Arctic mechanised infantry brigade participate in a military drill on riding reindeer and dog sleds near the settlement of Lovozero outside Murmansk on Jan.23, 2017. (Lev Fedoseyev/Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation/Handout)

As Reuters notes, Russia is engaging in its largest military expansion since the fall of the Soviet Union, focusing heavily on Arctic regions. Up for grabs are massive deposits of oil and gas. While oil prices worldwide remain low, Russia is laying the groundwork for regional dominance, including building up a fleet of nuclear-powered ice breaker ships.

Russia’s buildup hasn’t gone unnoticed: This week, US troops are conducting exercises with Poland. Two weeks ago, US Marines arrived in Norway.

Russia has used reindeer in combat before, particularly during World War II, where they were used as pack animals and helped the Russian military move supplies and people across terrain that wasn’t suitable for mechanized transports. There are even memorials in Russia to the reindeer who have served. These handout photos, silly as they seem, carry a clear message from Russia. The reindeer and wooden sleighs might be hokey, but at least they’re local—a little reminder about who knows the chilly Arctic best.

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