Russia worries defense chief most

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The chief of Norway’s armed forces, Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen, made it clear on Thursday that “developments in Russia” worry him the most when it comes to ranking various defense issues. He views a cyberattack as the “most probable” threat to Norway.

Admiral Haakon Bruun-Hanssen is a former submarine captain who now serves as Norway’s chief of all the country’s armed forces. PHOTO: Forsvaret/Torbjørn Kjosvold

“The situation with Russia in recent years lands as number one,” Bruun-Hanssen said during a summer interview on state broadcaster NRK’s morning radio program Sommerkvarter.

“We aren’t worried directly about Russia, that they represent a threat, but we have seen a far more assertive Russia that has chosen to use military force to attain political goals,” Bruun-Hanssen said. “We saw it in Georgia in 2008, on the Crimean Peninsula and in Ukraine in 2014, and we have seen them use military force to support the Assad regime in Syria.”

Bruun-Hanssen, who advises political leaders like Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen, believes Russia’s growing assertiveness creates security challenges for Europe. That will be a major issue at next week’s NATO summit in Brussels.

It’s not just the Russian military that concerns Norway’s defense chief, regarding Northern Norway’s neighbour to the east. “Russia has also undermined organizations, social structures and legally elected governments all over Europe,” Bruun-Hanssen said. “Both through false news and support for various organizations, Russia is destabilizing some of the NATO countries and the EU countries. All that worries us.”

He called it “a development we haven’t seen since the Cold War. It creates security challenges for Europe as a whole and for individual nations.”

NRK reported that Russia’s embassy in Oslo declined comment on the interview with Bruun-Hanssen. The Russian Embassy has earlier, however, issued lengthy statements outlining its own worries about NATO troop build-up near the Russian border and, most recently, the growing presence of US troops on Norwegian soil.

Asked what’s the biggest threat facing Norway today, Bruun-Hanssen responded that the most “dangerous” would “of course be if someone used military force against us. But the most probable? I think it’s cyber attakcs directed at a portion of our society. It can happen in several areas that can cause destruction for commercial operations, individuals and the state.” Norway’s police intelligence service PST suspected earlier this year that advanced and professional players attacked computer systems within Norway’s southeastern health care service (Helse Sør-Øst).

Norway’s national security authority NSM has warned there were as many as 20,000 cyber attacks against Norwegian interests last year. Targets can include defense and preparedness operations, state government operations, research and critical Norwegian infrastructure.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund