Russia conducts first post-Soviet training flight via North Pole to North America: RIA

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has conducted its first military training flight via the North Pole to North America since Soviet times, the RIA news agency cited Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu as saying on Wednesday.

Shoigu, addressing senior military commanders, was quoted as saying the flight had been carried out by Russian anti-submarine aircraft.

He did not say when the flight took place, but his announcement coincides with a major naval exercise by the United States and Britain in the Arctic Circle, and at time of heightened East-West tensions over the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain.

The U.S.-led drills, called Exercise 18 (ICEX), are being co-ordinated by the U.S. Navy's Arctic Submarine Laboratory and involve Britain's HMS Trenchant and two U.S. submarines, the USS Connecticut and the USS Hartford.

Britain has billed the exercise as an opportunity for its submariners to learn and develop skills to operate under the Arctic ice cap.

Russia, in the midst of a major rearmament program, has embarked upon its biggest military push in the Arctic -- beefing up its military presence and capabilities -- since the 1991 Soviet fall.

The Arctic is estimated to hold more hydrocarbon reserves than Saudi Arabia and Russia.

(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Polina Devitt; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Peter Graff)