Russia won’t observe NATO’s next Arctic exercise

Cold Response 2022, which begins later this month, is set to be the largest recent NATO exercise in the Arctic.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - March 8, 2022
Servicemembers walk past a U.S. Navy vessel. (Thomas Nilsen / The Independent Barents Observer)

Russia has informed the Norwegian military Joint Headquarters it will not send any observers to Cold Response 2022, a major NATO military exercise beginning later this month in Norway, public broadcaster NRK Nordland reports.

Cold Response 2022 kicks off in mid-March and will last until April with most of the military activity taking place in southeastern Norway, central Norway and the northern parts of the country. It’s set to be the bloc’s largest exercise inside the Arctic Circle in modern times.

“They have reported back that they can’t participate. We have to respect that,” says Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo, Chief of the Joint Headquarters.

He will not speculate on any connections with the ongoing war in Ukraine.

“That would be a question for Russian authorities to answer,” Odlo told the NRK.

All observers will be presented with a full program of transparency, as stipulated in the Vienna Document, aimed to lower tensions and avoid misunderstandings.

In January, Lt. Gen. Yngve Odlo informed Commander of the Russian Northern Fleet, Admiral Aleksandr Moiseev, about the upcoming NATO exercise. The two military commanders have for years maintained a direct Skype link between the two Headquarters, Reitan near Bodø and Severomorsk north of Murmansk.

Russia has for the most sent observers to larger NATO exercises in northern Norway since then-Minister of Defense Jørgen Kosmo, first invited Russia to an exercise in the waters off Lofoten in the mid-1990s.

During NATO exercise Trident Juncture in 2018, Russia’s powerful Northern Fleet launched several ad-hoc drills in the waters outside Norway. Simultaneously, land forces in the Pechenga valley on the Kola Peninsula activated severe jamming of GPS signals over the Finnmark region that caused troubles for civilian aviation in the air space from Kirkenes almost to Tromsø in the west.

The 30,000 troops from 27 countries that have signed up for Cold Response 2022 will test winter combat in air, sea and land elements. The first personnel from countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have already arrived at military camps in the Troms and Nordland regions inside the Arctic Circle.

Most of the activities during Cold Response take place about 500 kilometers west of the border to Russia’s militarized Kola Peninsula and the Norwegian Joint Headquarters underlines that the drill is defensive and aimed to train on reinforcing Norway militarily, testing the deployment of the NATO Response Force.

As previously reported by the Barents Observer, also two air carrier groups are anticipated to join. The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, however, is still in the eastern parts of the Mediterranean Sea where it on March 2 provided planes to a series of training missions with the Romanian Air Force.

NATO has enhanced its forward presence in the eastern part of the Alliance, including the Black Sea and the Mediterranean in response to Russia’s massive military attack on Ukraine.

The second carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales, is currently at Portsmouth on England’s south coast.