Russia’s Northern Fleet kicks off major Barents Sea command and staff exercise

20 warships, submarines, support ships, and airforce. More than 8,000 servicemen participate as Russia early Friday morning sent out its largest fleet to the Barents Sea for war games.

By Thomas Nilsen, The Independent Barents Observer - August 11, 2023
Warships, submarines and support vessels left port in Severomorsk for the Barents Sea exercise. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

The exercise comes unsurprisingly. Earlier this week, the Barents Observer reported about Russia issuing NOTAM-warnings for two larger areas north and south of Norway’s Bear Island in the western Barents Sea. “Impact areas for missiles,” the warning to civilian air traffic said.

Norway, worried about consequences for its search- and rescue capabilities in the waters around Svalbard, can do nothing to hinder Russia from using the Norwegian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) as an impact area for cruise missiles. This is international waters.

“The Law of the Seas gives states access to conduct military exercises in other states’ 200-mile zones,” says spokesperson with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde to the Barents Observer.

“Russia can therefore carry out military training activities in Norwegian 200-mile zone,” she adds.

Map: Google Earth / NotamMap / Barents Observer

Lunde underlines that Norwegian authorities assume Russia’s military exercises are “carried out in a way that safeguards Norwegian rights under the Law of the Sea and international law in general.”

That also includes Norway’s fishing rights, Lunde says.

Fishing trawlers and other civilian vessels are warned by Russia’s Sea Port administration for the European Arctic to keep out of the two large training areas in the western Barents Sea. For a trawler captain, that could mean days without fishing and extra fuel costs by sailing away to safe distance.

The Russian warnings are operative from Friday morning to Monday evening.

“During the exercise, under the leadership of the commander of the fleet, Admiral Aleksander Moiseev, various options for managing the forces and troops of the fleet will be tested in the performance of tasks to protect the sovereignty of the Russian Federation in the waters of the Northern Sea Route,” the press service of the Northern Fleet in Severomorsk writes.

Fighter jets took to the skies Friday morning north of the Kola Peninsula to protect the 20 warships now sailing out. A few nuclear-powered submarines are also involved, as well as coastal missile systems and special military formations.

Within a few days, several of the warships will be deployed for the Northern Fleet’s annual Arctic Expeditionary Vessel Group, aimed to protect the Northern Sea Route. Such forces normally sail to the Kara- and Lapte Seas, for landing training at the Taimyr Peninsula and New Siberian Islands. However, in 2021, the large anti-submarine warship “Severomorsk” together with support vessels suddenly turned west in the northern Barents Sea and sailed to the west coast of Svalbard.

Thereafter, the navy group continued east to its predicted route north of Siberia.

Located in Kirkenes, Norway, just a few kilometres from the borders to Russia and Finland, the Barents Observer is dedicated to cross-border journalism in Scandinavia, Russia and the wider Arctic.

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