Russians boost flights off Norway

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Not since the days of the Cold War have Norwegian military officials recorded so many flights near Norwegian territory by their Russian counterparts. Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported on Tuesday that the Russians have resumed “strategic” sorties along the Norwegian coast and over the Norwegian Sea.

“We see that the Russians have taken up strategic flights again along the coast, out in the Norwegian Sea and over the Atlantic, back to the levels seen during the Cold War,” Commander Lars Saunes at Norway’s joint operations base in Bodø in northern Norway told NRK.

Just last week, two Russian bombers flew along the Norwegian coast from eastern Finnmark nearly as far south as the coast of Sørlandet, reported military officials.

The bombers had flown from the Engels Base southeast of Moscow and up to the Kola Peninsula before they headed west. After refueling near the island of Bjørnøya, they flew south over the Norwegian Sea in international airspace.

“We have fighter jets stationed at Bodø that went out and identified them,” Saunes told NRK.

Many more “greetings”

Russian military flights have been increasing off Norway for the past several years, after all but disappearing during the 1990s. At the end of the ’90s, Norwegian fighter jets only “greeted” Russian military flights three or four times. Last year, 87 Russian flights were recorded off Norway, while Norwegian Air Force officials have logged around 75 so far this year.

The Norwegian Air Force (Luftforsvaret) notes that their Russian counterparts have been embarking on more complicated flights than earlier, using a wider variety of aircraft and refueling in the air underway.

“That means their pilots are getting more experience, and they can do this more securely,” said Saunes. “And they’ve had more funding.”

Not sure why

Saunes said there has been much speculation as to why the Russians are flying so actively off Norway and sometimes as far south as the UK. “I haven’t had any clear description of what their reasons are,” he said.

Some political observers have suggested that Russian leader Vladimir Putin, both as president and now prime minister, has been keen to build up Russian military forces and portray Russia once again as a force to be reckoned with, not least towards NATO, of which Norway is a member.