Russian jets signal ‘return to Arctic’

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Norwegian fighter jets are now being dispatched weekly to identify and document close flying along Norway’s territorial border by Russian military aircraft. Some of the Russian jets appear to be armed, but a Russian spokesman claims they’re merely on exercises to protect their own borders.

The Norwegian department of defense released this photo, among others, of a Norwegian F16 fighter jet (at left) flying up to a Russian jet, to identify and document the so-called "visit." PHOTO: Forsvaret

The Norwegian department of defense released this photo, among others, of a Norwegian F16 fighter jet (at left) flying up to a Russian jet, to identify and document the recent so-called “visit.” PHOTO: Forsvaret

The flights started increasing earlier this year and now have become almost routine, reported Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Monday on its nightly national TV newscast Dagsrevyen. There’s no question the Russians are making their renewed presence in the Arctic known.

Norwegian military officials confirmed, and released photos, of the Russian fighter jets in flight, and shared photos of some aircraft with missiles attached to their undersides. Less than two weeks before Russian and Norwegian politicians are due to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Liberation of Finnmark together in Northern Norway, and the “special relationship” between Norway and Russia, Norwegian military intelligence experts say they aren’t interpreting the increased activity by the Russians as a threat. They confirmed, however, that they’re monitoring all the flights closely.

For more photos, see NRK’s coverage here (external link, in Norwegian).

There was also a rapid increase in Russian fighter jets buzzing the Norwegian coast back in 2009. “The most important change in activity over time has perhaps been that the Russian strategic air force, those with the ability to carry missiles with nuclear weapons, has been more active than we’re used to,” Kjell Grandhagen, chief of military intelligence, told NRK.

Grandhagen said that activity close to the border is normal, but there’s a marked increase in activity in the Arctic areas, also at sea.

More activity planned
Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine and annexation of Crimea has upset many in Europe and North America, and raised questions about Russia’s intentions and renewed aggression, with comments flying that Russia is provoking another Cold War. Not so, claimed Andrej Kulikov at the Russian Embassy in Oslo. He claims the Russian flights are part of ordinary exercises and not meant as a threat.

He also said there would be a further increase in military activity in the far north. He told NRK that after the fall of the Soviet Union, the far north was not a priority and military activity subsequently fell, but now Russian forces are on their way back. Russia has vast Arctic interests to protect, he said. The area has recently been opening up to new activity, such as commercial shipping routes and energy exploration.

“Russia has a very long Arctic coastline and it simply wants to secure its borders and interests without affecting any state or making any threats to any countries,” Kulikov told NRK.

Norway is also increasing its military presence in the north, with funding provided for it in the proposed state budget released by the government last week. Kulikov, speaking English on the NRK newscast, said that’s within Norway’s rights, and it should be expected that Russia is doing the same.

‘Get used to it’
“You have to get used to that Russia is back (in the) Arctic, and it (was) always in the Arctic in the Soviet times, so now it’s coming back,” Kulikov told NRK. “You’re not surprised with (the) American army being in the Arctic or Canadian forces being in the Arctic, or Norwegian forces being in the Arctic (so) why should you be surprised with the Russian ones being there?” He added that all countries bordering on the Arctic must respect each other’s borders, and he claimed Russia respected its neighours’ rights, even though that wasn’t the case with Crimea.

Grandhagen told NRK that “we won’t shut our eyes to the changes that the Ukrainian crisis have shown. We see that other countries, the EU and NATO are digesting this. The Russians have been willing to set the rule of law aside when important national interests feel threatened. We must register that. We must be even more acutely aware than before.”

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund