CNN  — 

Russia has continued expanding its military bases in the Arctic region despite significant losses in its war on Ukraine, according to a new series of satellite images obtained by CNN.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday there is now “a significant Russian military build-up in the high north,” with recent tensions causing the alliance to “double its presence” in response.

The findings also come as a senior Western intelligence official told CNN Russia has withdrawn as much as three quarters of its land forces from the High North region near the Arctic, sending them to bolster its faltering invasion of its neighbor, Ukraine.

The satellite pictures, obtained by CNN from Maxar Technologies, show a series of Russian radar bases and runways undergoing improvements over the past year. The images do not show dramatic development, but rather the continued progress of fortifying and expanding an area analysts say is of vital importance to Russia’s defensive strategy, at a time of great strain on Moscow’s resources.

According to Maxar, the images demonstrate continued work on the radar stations at the Olenegorsk site, on the Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia, and at Vorkuta, just north of the Arctic circle. They also appear to show work moving ahead to complete one of five Rezonans-N radar systems at Ostrovnoy, a site located by the Barents Sea, near Norway and Finland in Russia’s west. The Rezonans-N are claimed by Russian officials to be able to detect stealth aircraft and objects.

At Tiksi air defense site, towards the East of Russia's arctic region, satellite imagery shows three radomes (which protect radar systems) have been built up between this October and last. The remote Russian military Arctic base is located on the coast of the Laptev Sea.

Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

Three new radomes, the weatherproof enclosures used to protect radar antennas, were completed this year at the Tiksi air defense site, in the far northeast, according to Maxar’s images and analysis. There are also improvements to a runway and parking apron at Nagurskoye air base – Russia’s northernmost military facility – and runway improvements at ‘Temp’ air base, on Kotelny Island, in the northeast of the country.

Russia has been bolstering its defenses in the far north for years, refurbishing a series of old Soviet bases with modern designs and equipment.

Its Arctic region has long been key to its oil and gas sector, but also to its nuclear defenses, with a significant proportion of its sophisticated nuclear weaponry and submarine facilities in that area.

On the arctic Kola Peninsula in northwest Russia, change is visible at the Olenegorsk Radar Station, including a new building compared to the imagery from June last year.

Satellite image ©2022 Maxar Technologies

“That deterrence has always been ready,” said a senior Western intelligence official. “It’s never down to low readiness; it’s a high status all the time,” the official said.

At the start of the war with Ukraine in February some submarines were repositioned to signal “this is a real capability,” the official added, but they soon returned to standard high readiness.

NATO chief Stoltenberg reasoned: “The shortest way from Russia to North America is over the Arctic North Pole. So the strategic importance of these areas has not changed because of the war in Ukraine.”

“We see Russia reopening old Soviet bases, military sites,” he said, noting that it is also “testing novel weapons in the Arctic and the high north.”