Two Russian bomber jets flew along Norway’s coastline as far south as Bergen on Wednesday before they turned around after being met by Norwegian fighter jets. The flights were viewed as another direct reaction to NATO’s huge military exercises that began in Norway last week.
Russian officials have also announced that they’ll be conducting missile-launching exercises from Russian military vessels in international waters off the coasts of Møre og Romsdal and Trøndelag this week. They also announced four days of missile training from submarines off the coast of Finnmark in Northern Norway.
“As far as I know, Russia has never set up a military shooting range right off the coast of Norway, which directly overlaps with NATO’s active exercise area,” Jacob Børresen, a retired flag commander with a long military career, told newspaper Aftenposten on Thursday. He has led NATO exercises himself and thinks the Russian missile testing is risky and indefensible.
“Nor have the Russians ever launched missiles from submarines so far west, right off of Finnmark,” Børresen said. “That didn’t even happen during the Cold War.” The latest Russian operation will take place in international waters directly north of the Norwegian communities of Berlevåg and Gamvik, from 6am until 8pm next Tuesday through Friday.
‘Serious and scary’
Erik Lødding of state airports’ agency Avinor, which was informed of the missile training so that pilots could be warned, has also said the Russians’ announcements of planned exercises are unusual. “It’s not often we get this kind of message in to Avinor,” Lødding told Aftenposten, adding that the missile activity can have direct consequences for civilian aviation.
“There is no doubt at all that these Russian military operations in the Norwegian Sea are a direct response from Russia to the NATO exercise Trident Juncture,” Børresen told Aftenposten. “The Russians are feeling threatened and surrounded, and under pressure from NATO.”
One researcher at the Norwegian foreign policy institute NUPI called the missile testing “serious” and even a “bit scary.” Julie Wilhelmsen, who has specialized in Russian foreign and defense policy, said it wasn’t surprising, however. The Russians are extremely negative towards the NATO exercise, “and then you react by behaving like a threat,” Wilhelmsen told state broadcaster NRK.
Other agreed, saying the Russians had been expected to mount some sort of strength display themselves. “It’s a signal to those at home that Russia is prepared and can tolerate pressure,” Jakub Godzimirski, another researcher at NUPI, told newspaper Dagsavisen. “It’s also directed at critics here in Norway and in NATO who believe Trident Juncture will provoke a Russian response.”
Solberg expected a response
Prime Minister Erna Solberg was calm as usual and said Norway expected that Russia would want to flex its muscles during the NATO exercise. “Russia has warned us and sent the message about tests outside Norwegian territory,” Solberg said at a press conference Wednesday. “This is of course a response to the ongoing NATO exercise.”
Officials at NATO, which put on a major display of strength itself on Tuesday, said Trident Juncture would proceed as planned. Dialogue with the Russians is going through Avinor, which is keeping Norway’s defense department updated on the Russian activity.
“We are aware of the announcements that have been sent out,” Ivar Moen of NATO told NRK. “Trident Juncture is proceeding as normal.”