Russian Arctic - extreme measures in extreme conditions

Emergency rescue drills are essential in the Arctic, as the training prepares the Russian border guard and Emergencies Ministry to protect and provide safety for people at its northwestern border.

But some see these rescue exercises as a sign to show who really has control over the region.

Something goes wrong with the plane flying over the Arctic and it makes an emergency landing on Franz Josef Land, in the middle of the ocean. There are dead and injured. Pilots call for help.

Rescuers from the mainland are coming. But border guards from Russia's northernmost frontier post on the archipelago are first to the scene.

These drills are very life-like – it not only can happen, but it already has. The wreckage used in the training is the actual ruins of a plane that crashed here in the 1990s. Then no one was hurt, but as usual, the training exercises suppose the worst.

The event is unique, as for the first time ever, Russia’s border forces and Emergencies Ministry are training together in the country’s extreme regions. And they are immensely important regarding security in the Arctic.

“The tourism here is booming,” said border guard Aleksey Volsky. “Almost 2 million flow into this land every year. With the Arctic's further development there will be even more people here, tourists or explorers. We have to provide safety for all.”

Meanwhile skeptics say that the drills' purpose is nothing but to demonstrate who is ruling the Arctic, amid a harsh battle for this resource-rich region between the states that border it – an accusation Russia does not agree with.

“The drills show that we have the forces and means to be able and ready to react to emergencies in the region,” said Deputy Emergencies Minister Aleksandr Chupriyan. "Nationality doesn't matter  – it can help Russians and foreigners equally. This is international security here that we test.”

Experts say the Arctic can divide countries in a chase for this land's immense natural resources, but it could just as well unite them.

“Russia is of course responsible for ecology there, for exploitation of the region and rescue operations and so on and so on,” stated Professor Lev Voronkov from the Moscow State University of International Relations. “No one country in the world is able to accumulate the financial resources and other means to resolve alone the problems existing in the Arctic. So we are voting for cooperation in the Arctic, for sure.”

If so, these first drills will not be the last … and may soon change these operations from being national to international in nature.