The chief of Norway’s military intelligence agency followed up on earlier claims by other Norwegian intelligence officials on Wednesday, reporting that while Russia poses no military threat to Norway today, it can become a “considerable risk” over time.
Gen Lt Morten Haga Lunde, who recently took over as head of the intelligence agency known as E-tjenesten, said during an annual briefing on “security challenges” to Norway that Russia especially demands lots of attention. In presenting the defense department’s report entitled Fokus 2016, Lunde also addressed security concerns involving the Middle East, international terrorism and digital threats.
At the briefing attended by Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide and other top state officials, Lunde claimed that Russia has shown western allies that it has modernized and renewed its own military apparatus through its bombing of Syria and intervention in Ukraine. The Fokus 2016 report notes that Russia has shown increased willingness and ability to use a broad spectrum of means to attain its political goals, and presents a steadily “anti-western” position intent on retaining at least some form of control over former Soviet republics.
Its military intervention in Syria, aimed at supporting the Syrian regime and fighting terrorism, has also backed Russia’s rising ambitions to reclaim its role as superpower, according to the report. Norwegian military experts believe Russia will continue to also mount diplomatic offensives to establish itself as an unavoidable player in handling international conflicts.
Ongoing concerns in the Arctic
It’s in the northern areas where Russia, despite what the Norwegians called its “long-term economic uncertainty” and a decline of nearly 4 percent last year in GNP, poses the biggest challenge for Norway. Russia is expected, according to the report, to behave even more “unpredictably” in the international arena in 2016, raising concerns given Norway’s and Russia’s shared border and keen interest in Arctic areas.
Moreover, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine and Syria “portray a military power that to a large degree has succeeded with its ongoing modernization program.” The program has continued despite Russia’s “demanding economic situation,” and it already has resulted in a “considerably slimmer and more mobile military operation with higher reaction ability.”
The report went on to note that “re-establishment of military infrastructure in the Russian Arctic … demonstrates Russia’s ambitions for national control in the area. Combined with its larger presence and more military exercises, the developments in Russian military strength give it “significantly increased ability to influence Norway’s and its allies’ free movement in the northern areas.
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported from the report’s presentation on Wednesday that this all amounts to potentially “considerable risk” for Norway. “Russia doesn’t pose any military threat to Norway today, but Russia has clearly shown a willingness to use all state resources to protect its interests in and outside Russia,” Lunde said. “It is our evaluation that the developments in Russia can pose a considerable risk and challenge for Norway.”
Social unrest can raise unpredictability
He said potential social unrest in Russia can also present challenges. “President (Vladimir) Putin apparently won’t be able to deliver all the goods promised to the Russian people in 2016 and 2017,” Lunde said. “We think that will eventually create social unrest.” That, he noted, can add to the unpredictability of how Russian leaders will react to demanding situations both at home and abroad.
Terrorism and the terrorist organization IS, meanwhile, also pose threats to Norway and other western allies, the report noted, with threats from militant Islamists “steadily more complex and serious.” Norway, according to the reports, is viewed as “a legitimate target for international terror groups that share their ideology.”
NRK reported that Lunde pointed to both Russian and Chinese intelligence when he addressed digital threats against Norway. According to the report, Russian players directed “ongoing activities” against Norwegian authorities and operations in 2015, and that’s expected to continue. Asked whether Norway is prepared to fend off such threats, Lunde noted that Norway is “a small country and will never have a defense that can stop a Russian invasion. But we are part of the powerful NATO alliance that is a part of the Norwegian defense.”