New Norwegian Government to Restrict NATO Traffic Near Russia
In the words of the country's Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, it is in Norway's best interests to take care of its northernmost areas using its own armed forces, as a means of balancing deterrence with reassurance.
Norway's Labour Party, which came to power earlier this year after nearly a decade of Conservative rule, wants the planes and vessels from allied countries to keep some distance from border areas near Russia in the north, Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt has said.
“It is important for Norway to be militarily present in our immediate surroundings. But very close to the Russian border, we believe that we do it best ourselves, with Norwegian planes and Norwegian frigates. It is fundamental for us,” Anniken Huitfeldt told the newspaper Verdens Gang.
When directly asked whether the government wants to keep vessels and aircraft from the US and the UK at a keep greater distance from Russia, Huitfeldt said that she seeks a dialogue with both countries about it in order to safeguard Norway's interests.
“It is in Norway's interest to take care of these areas on its own, with the Norwegian defence,” Huitfeldt reiterated.
At the same time, Huitfeldt ventured that it is important for Norway to balance deterrence with reassurance, admitting to the country's full dependence on security guarantees from NATO.
Huitfeldt's stance is not unlike that of former commander of the Armed Forces' operational headquarters Rune Jakobsen, who went to great lengths to criticise the joint sailings in the Barents Sea all the way to Russia's economic zone.
“We are trying to tell our partners that Norway is NATO in the north. The Russians are used to Norwegian planes and vessels' presence in the Barents Sea. Plus the Intelligence Service's vessel Marjata sails there. This is how we want it to be in the future as well: That it is not American P8 surveillance aircraft, but our own that fly in the airspace east of Andøya [Nordland County],” Jakobsen told Verdens Gang.
These sailings in the Barents Sea are the subject of a new book by defence researcher and lieutenant colonel Tormod Heier. Among other things, in his book “A marginal state going astray” he claims that Norwegian freedom of action vis-à-vis Russia has been weakened as Norway has become more dependent on the US. Furthermore, Heier ventures that the Norwegian authorities take at least part of the responsibility for Russia's military build-up in the north.
In 2020, two rounds of British and American naval exercises in the Barents Sea received a great deal of attention, especially when the Norwegian frigate “Thor Heyerdahl”, accompanied by British and American vessels, sailed into Russia's economic zone well outside the country's sea border.
1 February 2021, 05:29 GMT
The Norwegian government led by Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre has already announced its wish to try and improve relations with Russia in the north.
Over the past decade, Norwegian-Russian partnership, which goes back hundreds of years and have been marked by neighbourly cooperation and peaceful trade, has been undermined by reciprocal military build-ups, military jet interceptions, spying accusations and an overall harsher tone by politicians and top brass.