Russia launched the world's biggest, most powerful icebreaker on Thursday in St. Petersburg.

The Arktika is 568 feet long and powered by two nuclear reactors. It can break through ice 13 feet deep, NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reports.

The ship set forth early, ahead of its planned 2017 launch, according to Sputnik News and the shipyard where the Arktika was built.

"She is one of several new icebreakers planned for Russia's growing fleet — a fleet already bigger than all other countries, combined," Mary Louise reports.

"Russian interest in the Arctic is rising, as global warming opens up shipping routes and access to mineral resources."

In addition to launching new icebreakers, Russia is building new bases in the Arctic Circle and modernizing its nuclear submarines.

The steps are "unmistakable signals of Russia's intent to reassert itself on the global stage," Mary Louise says.

As we've previously reported, the U.S. Coast Guard currently operates one heavy icebreaker that can access the Arctic, as well as one smaller research vessel.

Russia has more than two dozen oceangoing icebreakers, Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, told NPR's Jackie Northam last year.

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