They’re meeting much more frequently and have their eyes on both the Baltic and the Barents. Defense ministers from all three Scandinavian countries gathered again in Malmø this week, to find new ways of tying their defense forces together in the face of a steadily more aggressive Russia.
Defense cooperation is at the top of their agenda, after Russia has boosted its air and marine presence in the Baltic and is believed to be behind ongoing cyber attacks on Nordic national assemblies. “We have a need to make sure they know we’re following them,” Defense Minister Bjørn Arild Gram told reporters after Monday’s meeting in southern Sweden.
He confirmed how tensions keep rising in the Baltic, a region of “great strategic interest for Sweden, Denmark and Norway.” Also for Finland, which will host the next ministerial meeting in just a few weeks. Gram is glad that both Finland and Sweden are in the process of joining NATO, support for which was sealed by the US last week.
“Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine has consequences for us all,” Gram said. Baltic countries have been especially on alert: Since Russia has shown it’s willing to invade a neighbouring sovereign country, the same could occur farther north. NATO already has boosted its presence in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, while the Nordic countries (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Iceland) are cooperating more closely than ever before.
“It’s in our common interests to take responsibility for security in the Baltic,” Gram stated at the latest meeting with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultquist and Danish Defense Minister Morten Bødskov. Some of them will also meet yet again in Copenhagen on Thursday at an international donor conference for Ukraine.
Gram wouldn’t specify how much new donations and other forms of support Norway will offer, but told news bureau NTB that “it’s absolutely critical that Ukraine has broad support for its fight, and Norway will of course contribute to that.”
Meanwhile he and his fellow ministers openly used their meeting on Monday “to show our unity and support for one another, and develop cooperation,” Gram said. The huge NATO exercise Norway hosts in Northern Norway every other winter will develop from being “Cold Response” to “Nordic Response,” with an emphasis on joint Nordic exercises.
All three men were updated on the strategic importance of both the Øresund region between southern Sweden and Denmark and the Baltic Sea, and how important it is to have control of the entire area in the event of crisis or war. “When we get all of the Nordic countries into NATO, developments in the Baltic will be even more important for Norway,” Gram said.
They specifically have already agreed to explore using each other’s military infrastructure and air space, with the goal of having better control over the area, according to Bødskov of Denmark. Gram told NTB that ongoing Russian violations in the area “are of course completely unacceptable behaviour from the Russia side, and we’ve made that clear.”
There’s little if any dialogue between top Russian and Nordic officials, however, with Gram conceding that communication is minimal, restricted mostly to ongoing cooperation over fishing regulations and search and rescue operations. At the same time, he told NTB, “we have seen a major change in rhetoric and various forms of threats and hybrid threats. We are of course very worried about this development, but we also let it be known that we’re following it all and can handle the threats that arise.”