Russian officials announced on Monday that they plan some military exercises of their own this week, not far from where the huge NATO exercise is taking place in Norway. Hundreds of Norwegian civilians, meanwhile, took to the streets during the weekend to protest NATO’s show of force.
“Norway out of NATO, yankees go home,” chanted nearly 1,000 demonstrators who marched through downtown Oslo on Saturday and then assembled for a rally. They represented 27 organizations including the Socialist Left (SV) and Reds political parties.
The US Embassy in Oslo had warned US government personnel in Norway to stay away from the area, extending from the central train station and up Karl Johans Gate to the National Theater, where the march and rally took place. The demonstration had been approved, however, by Norwegian police and patrol cars were standing by in addition to police on horseback. The embassy also warned against similar demonstrations taking place in Kristiansand, Bergen and other major Norwegian cities.
It all proceeded peacefully with no incidents reported. Erling Borgen, a professor and veteran Norwegian journalist-turned-activist who served as master of ceremonies for the event, called NATO’s planned demonstration of strength for NATO officials and ambassadors on Tuesday “shameful,” claiming that he didn’t think residents of Libya are toasting NATO’s controversial bombing of the country in 2011.
Borgen also spoke of his frustration in trying to get answers from either US or Norwegian officials about whether the US aircraft carrier Harry S Truman, which is taking part in the exercises, is carrying atomic weapons. He pointed to restrictions on such atomic weapons in Norway and was not satisfied with Norwegian officials’ statement that they were “confident” the US would respect them. Borgen was met with applause when he stated that “we want to know” whether atomic weapons are on board the large vessel that’s making a guest appearance in Norway.
The crowd out marching and protesting NATO’s exercises featured many senior citizens and women. Borgen said they numbered 955 altogether and he and other organizers of the demonstration were pleased by the turnout.
Borgen told the crowd assembled after the march that NATO’s Trident Juncture exercise “increases the tension level” between Norway and Russia. The latter responded on Monday with what one Norwegian researcher called “feedback” of its own: It plans to carry out missile-launching tests in the Norwegian Sea off the coast of Trøndelag and Møre on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
Newspaper Klassekampen reported that Russians officials informed the state agency in charge of Norwegian airports, Avinor, just before the weekend that the tests would be carried out using live ammunition. Avinor in turn sent out a so-called “Notam” warning to all pilots, so that flights can choose to navigate around the testing area described by the Russians.
Russian warning downplayed
“It’s not often that this type of warning is sent out,” Erik Lødding, communications chief at Avinor, told state broadcaster NRK on Monday. He downplayed it, however, calling the warning “a routine sharing of information. There’s no drama in this.”
The Trident Juncture exercises were also due to proceed as planned, despite the Russian activity in both international waters and airspace. Norwegian defense officials said they were aware of the Russian exercises but couldn’t answer any questions about them.
Julie Wilhelmsen, a senior researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI, specializes in Russian issues. She said the Russian exercise is hardly coincidental, and more likely is “a form of feedback to Trident Juncture.” She said there was a “clear” connection to a rise in conflict levels between NATO and Russia.