Russia’s foreign ministry made it clear Thursday night that it’s not at all in favour of Norway allowing US troops to be stationed at Værnes outside Trondheim. “Norway is choosing American soldiers over economic cooperation with Russia,” a spokeswoman for the Russian foreign minister told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK).
“We don’t understand why something like this is being done, in a time of peace,” Maria Zakharova, director of information at the Russian foreign ministry, told NRK. She was making an official response to the Norwegian government’s confirmation this week that 330 US Marines will be stationed at Værnes on a rotation system beginning in January.
“The fact that the Norwegian authorities say these troops will be rotated doesn’t especially ease our concerns,” Zakharova told NRK. “It only means that the soldiers will be shifted out, while the base will lie there permanently.”
Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide has insisted that it won’t be a “base” but the Russians aren’t buying her assurances. Zakharova said the Russians are also concerned that such a base will be located in the center of Norway, far from the actual border to Russia. “It’s just an attempt to camouflage that both training and exercises will now take place all over Norway,” she said.
Zakharova said Russia viewed the plans as Norway’s attempt to meet demands and wishes from the US. “But for us, it’s incomprehensible that this has to happen on European soil now,” she said. “Nor can we understand that this can serve Norway’s interests.”
She said she couldn’t say what consequences the presence of 330 American soldiers in Norway will have in Russia. “The Russian foreign ministry doesn’t have responsibility for what kind of military response might be put in place,” she said. “That’s something the military is responsible for, but they will surely evaluate what measures they feel are necessary.”
After years of cooperation following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, tensions between Russia and western nations began to rise with the re-emergence of Vladimir Putin as president of Russia. He has been keen to rebuild Russia as a major force in the world, but his decision to annex Crimea and intervene in Ukraine sparked international protests and prompted the EU and US to respond with economic sanctions to which Norway has adhered.
‘Making the crisis worse’
At the same time, Norway and Russia have generally had a cooperative bilateral relationship, even during the Cold War years, based on a long history of cooperation in the far north, where the two countries share a border. While many contend Russia initially provoked Norway and its allies with the annexation of Crimea, Russia now seems sensitive to any counter-response to the annexation.
Zakharova’s message to NRK was that Norway should “think through” its intentions in allowing US soldiers to be stationed in Norwegian territory. Norwegian and Russian cooperation, she suggested, was now being put to the test.
Asked whether placing US soldiers at Værnes would worsen relations between Norway and Russia, Zakharova responded that “it won’t, at any rate, make relations better. It’s necessary for Russian-European relations to find their way out of the dead-end they’ve reached. The measure the Norwegian authorities has now approved will only make the crisis worse, and deeper.”
“What’s best for Norway in the long term?” she asked rhetorically. “To deal with Russia or serve American soldiers? That’s the question we put to the Norwegian authorities.”