Nordic defense ministers discuss Russian exercise activities

Defense ministers from Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark meet in Bergen this week.

By Hege Eilertsen, High North News - April 9, 2018

The Nordic defense ministers want to establish closer ties and when they meet in Bergen, Norway this week, simplifying access to each other’s territories will be high on their agenda. So will Russia’s recent military exercise activities in the northern neighborhood.

On Tuesday and Wednesday this week, Norway will chair the Defense Ministers’ Meeting in NORDEFCO (Nordic Defence Cooperation) for the first time.

The defense cooperation includes Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark and began in 2009, when the five countries signed a memorandum of understanding.

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen visits the garrison in Sør-Varanger in late 2017. (Norwegian Ministry of Defense via High North News)

“Close Nordic collaboration gives good results,” said Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen in a related press statement.

In Bergen, Norway the defense ministers will discuss security policy challenges related to Russia’s recent military exercise activities in the northern neighborhood.

More aggressive Russian behavior

The Norwegian military intelligence services said that Norway must be prepared for a more aggressive Russian behavior in the High North to signify a new normal, when the services presented its upgraded threat assessment for 2018.

When presenting the Focus 2018 report, Director of the Norwegian Intelligence Service Morten Haga Lunde referred to Russia’s transferring larger military reinforcements to the Kola Peninsula during the Zapad exercise last fall, for the first time since the end of the Cold War.

“The transferring of air forces and land-based, long-distance precision weapons represented a change in which Russia increasingly uses military tools to send political signals to Norway and allied nations that train and practice in our neighborhood,” Haga Lunde said. “This development points in sum towards a new military normal in our neighborhood. The new normal situation of Russian activity implies a more aggressive Russian behavior in the High North, including larger and perhaps also more frequent exercises near Norway.”

“We notice that Russia conducts more exercises in the Arctic, modernizes its military defense and has a quite different rhetoric,” Haga Lunde told NTB at the time of the report’s release.

The Norwegian military presence in the Arctic has increased during 2017, and when Admiral and Chief of Defense Haakon Bruun-Hanssen summarized 2017 a few days ago, he said that the Norwegian defense organisation believes that the current security policy situation requires extensive and high-quality surveillance.