Russia now ‘our main challenge’

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Norway’s defense establishment was assessing its capability last week just as the country was also marking the 75th anniversary of its invasion by Nazi Germany on April 9, 1940. Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine makes defense issues more relevant than ever, with current Defense Chief and Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen noting that Norway’s neighbour in the north remains its “main challenge.”

Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, Norway's Chief of Defense, made it clear this week that Norway still needs a strong defense, 75 years after it was invaded by Nazi Germany. PHOTO; Mats Grimsæth/Forsvarets Mediesenter

Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, Norway’s Chief of Defense, made it clear this week that Norway still needs a strong defense, 75 years after it was invaded by Nazi Germany. PHOTO; Mats Grimsæth/Forsvarets Mediesenter

It’s the “considerable build-up” of Russian military activity in the Arctic  that’s challenging Norway’s defense forces more than anything else at present, according to Bruun-Hansen. “Our budgets are tight in relation to the current activity levels,” Bruun-Hanssen said when presenting the military’s annual report for 2014 this week.

The report carried the title Verden i endring (A world in change), and it illustrated just how quickly things have changed over the past two years alone. “2014 proved that the situation in the world is dynamic,” Bruun-Hanssen said. “It demands more from us. The expectations from the public, our politicians and not least from our NATO allies are rising, and then we immediately face an imbalance between ambitions and the economic resources we have at hand.”

Norway’s military brass has been making it clear in recent months that defense operations need more funding despite a series of budget increases in recent years. Defense received around NOK 37 billion (USD 6 billion at the time) in state budget allocation last year.

Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide from the Conservative Party has suggested there’s a need to re-juggle military priorities to get the most out of its existing budget. “But we are aware of the problems and are trying to find some solutions,” she told news bureau NTB on Tuesday.

The sabre-rattling by Russia, suddenly keen on making its presence known in the Arctic, has drummed up support for the military. Russia has invested heavily in its military capacity since 2008, especially in the Arctic, forcing Norway to strengthen its own ability in the areas of surveillance and defense.

The annual report confirmed that 74 Russian aircraft were identified in international airspace along Norway’s coast last year, compared to 58 the year before. Russian activity has also increased on and under the waters off Norway, as they’ve reportedly tested out three new types of submarines. Colonel Ingvild Jensrud said the Russians have also started using new missiles with greater range and precision, while there’s been a buildup of Russia’s northern fleet.

“This isn’t worrisome, since Russia is and has been a major power,” Bruun-Hanssen said. “This is a pure demonstration of strength, but we need to follow along so we won’t be surprised.”

The old Norwegian mantra of “never again a 9th of April,” when Norway was very much surprised by the invasion from Nazi Germany, was looming in the background as Norwegians at all levels were reminded of historic lessons this week. On Thursday, both Bruun-Hanssen and Søreide would be spending much of the day on at Oscarsborg, the fortress island south of Oslo where a determined commander issued the order to fire on a German troop ship sailing up to the capital as part of the invasion. The vessel Blücher was hit and sunk, allowing the king and government to escape, and Bruun-Hanssen was expected to hail the defense effort, while trying to build better defenses in the far north.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund