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    Pictured are Royal Marines and Royal Navy Personnel from 539 Assault Squadron performing a beach assault from an Offshore Raiding Craft (ORC) in Harstad, Norway (File)

    US, UK Troops to Tickle Russian Bear From Northernmost Norway

    CC BY-SA 2.0 / Defence Images / Defence Images 539 Assault Squadron performing a beach assault
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    Both American and British troops are slated to participate in a major exercise in polar Norway next spring. Even Norwegian experts admit that the biggest-ever maneuvers in Norway's northernmost province of Finnmark in close proximity to Russia will be seen as a provocation by the Russians.

    The exercise Joint Viking, in which Norwegian Brigade North will be joined by US and UK troops, is expected start in early March, numbering over 10,000 men together with aircraft, helicopters, tanks and naval vessels. Most notably, it is expected to become the largest ever exercise undertaken in far north, surpassing the previous joint winter exercise in Finnmark, which was held two years ago with 8,000 participants, which in turn was the largest of its kind since 1967.

    "Using Finnmark as the theater of operations allows us to practice the shifting of units from bases in southern Norway and Troms County northwards, it also provides good training conditions for sharpshooting," Norwegian army spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Ivar Moen at the Joint Headquarters told Norwegian national broadcaster NRK.

    According to him, the exercise was announced in advance and is about to take place some distance from the Russian frontier (mostly in Alta, Porsanger and Karasjok Municipalities near Norwegian-Finnish border), which is why there is no reason for anyone to feel provoked.

    Nevertheless, senior researcher Julie Wilhelmsen at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs (NUPI) claimed that the exercise would nevertheless be perceived as a provocation and a NATO buildup by the Russians. Furthermore, large-scale NATO exercises in far north border areas may incite a symmetrical response from the Russian side.

    "It is likely that such an exercise will lead to a Russian reaction, prompting the Russians to do something similar on their side of the border," Wilhelmsen argued, citing a 2015 Russian exercise which was held in Murmansk Region in response to the previous Joint Viking maneuvers in adjacent Finnmark.

    ​This year's edition of Joint Viking will include Navy, Army and Air forces, as well as 750 foreign participants.

    "The foreign forces will not operate on their own, but instead will be integrated in the Norwegian units," Ivar Moen told NRK.

    The US will contribute with the notorious Marine unit soon-to-be-stationed at Værnes air base, whose deployment sparked a heated debate in both Norway and Russia.

    "The stationing of around 330 soldiers at Værnes will by no means help improve security in Northern Europe," Russian Embassy Press Attaché in Norway Maksim Gurov wrote in an e-mail to NRK. According to him, the policy of avoiding foreign troops on Norwegian soil always has been advantageous to Norway, even in the time of the Cold War.

    In Norway, the plan to partly outsource national defense to US marines was slammed for "relinquishing the responsibility for Norway's security." At Værnes, the US marine company will be reinforced with logistics and medical personnel, as well as own artillery and tanks.

    According to the Norwegian Armed Forces, the purpose of the exercise to hone the soldiers' winter preparedness and simultaneously solve military tasks. Another remarkable trait is that next year's Joint Viking will, unlike its previous editions, not be focused on rapport during peacekeeping operations.

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    Tags:
    military drills, armed forces, Joint Viking, NUPI, NATO, Scandinavia, Finnmark, United States, Russia, United Kingdom, Norway
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