Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide confirmed that Norway will be participating in a US-led military exercise in deeply troubled Ukraine later this month, and will send soldiers and tanks to Latvia. Meanwhile, a major NATO exercise was literally rolling into Norway this week.
US President Barack Obama mentioned the upcoming exercise in Ukraine while he was in Estonia on Wednesday, as part of what he feels is a necessary show of force against Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
Norway’s participation will be limited, with Søreide saying two officers will be sent to Ukraine to take part in the exercises involving several hundred soldiers from allied forces. The exercises will take place in western Ukraine, near the Polish border, while in the eastern part of the country, Ukrainian forces are battling Russian-backed separatists and Russian soldiers confirmed to be on Ukrainian territory. Russia had denied its troops have once again crossed the border into Ukraine after annexing Crimea last spring.
Søreide stressed that Norway has taken part in similar military exercises for several years, and that Norway has long been engaged in and for Ukraine. “We have contributed with reforms for their security sector and with exchanges of officers,” she told news bureau NTB. Foreign Minister Børge Brende made his fourth trip in less than a year to Kiev earlier this week and also promised NOK 8 million in emergency aid to the hard-pressed nation that is defying what Obama calls “Russian aggression” and now wants to join NATO.
The exercises will run from September 13-26 and already have been called a “provocation” by Russian officials, reported news RIA Novosti. Russia, meanwhile, has been supplying the separatists and announced military exercises of its own this month, involving the unit responsible for Russia’s long-distance atomic rockets. Countries around the world also viewed Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a major “provocation,” along with Russia’s support for the separatists when Russia itself clamps down hard on separatists movements within its own country.
Norwegian soldiers to Latvian exercise, too
Søreide and Prime Minister Erna Solberg also confirmed that Norway will be sending soldiers as well as equipment to Latvia for another already-scheduled upcoming NATO exercise. Søreide had downplayed Norway’s involvement earlier this week, stressing that Norway has taken part in the NATO exercises in the Baltics before and that this one was not directly connected to the crisis over Russia and Ukraine.
Solberg displayed a tougher tone on Thursday as she, Søreide and Foreign Minister Børge Brende gathered with other leaders of NATO countries for the military alliance’s summit meeting in Wales. “It’s important that the countries that feel affected by (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s rhetoric come out of this meeting with a feeling that they have NATO behind them,” Solberg said at a press conference Thursday morning.
Norway will send around 150 soldiers from its Telemark Batallion. Solberg said Norway will also evaluate whether to have anti-missle defense on its battleships, but that no decision had been taken.
“The architecture we built up in NATO in the 1990s doesn’t work any longer,” Solberg said. “We must make it clear for our members in the east that an assault on a NATO country is an assault on all (NATO members, including Norway).”
NATO Response Force in Norway
As Norwegian leaders gathered in Wales on Thursday for the NATO summit, another major NATO Response Force exercise was starting up in Norway. Military equipment and around 6,500 soldiers from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark and the US began arriving at the port of Porsgrunn this week.
More equipment and military personnel was due at Fredikstad and Ullensaker and it will all move on to eastern Norway in large convoys expected to roll over the next few weeks.The areas around Elverum, Hamar, Løten, Rendalen, Stange, Trysil, Våler and Åmot will be among those most affected.
Norway is host nation for the exercise, called Noble Ledger, which aims to train forces in rapid deployment and in the logistics of getting military equipment and troops where needed. Norway was participating with its Telemark Batallion, Brigade Nord, The King’s Guards and medical corps.