Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced in the interview to the Sunday Telegragh that the UK is planning to open a new military base in the northern part of Norway and deploy 800 Royal Marine and Army troopers to the country every winter for 10 years from 2019. They are to operate with the US and Dutch troopers there. Together with 3,000 commandos, sent to take part in the NATO drills, the total number of the deployed troops will top 40,000.
As Williamson told the Telegragh, the Cabinet was drawing a “defence Arctic strategy” to boost the country’s military presence while concerns about Russian increasing activity “in our back yard” are growing.
“If we want to be protecting our interests in what is effectively our own back yard, this is something we need to be doing. Britain will make it clear that the Royal Navy not only has the skills and the capabilities to operate under the ice shelf but a willingness to do it,” he claimed, adding it’s about “demonstrating we’re there to uphold the international rules based order.”
He pointed out that Russia had re-opened its bases, which were shut down after the collapse of the USSR, and stepped up submarine activity in the Arctic, which is “very close to the level that it was at the Cold War.”
“If we could turn back the clock ten years many people thought that the era of submarine activity in the High North, in the North Atlantic, and the threat that it posed did disappear with the fall of the Berlin Wall. This threat has really come back to the fore,” he told the Telegraph.
The British outlet Express described the strategy as “the largest operation of its kind since the Cold War.” Earlier this year, the defence secretary announced that Typhoon fighters would be sent to Iceland to curb Russian actions.
In August, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu described defending Russian interests in the Arctic as a priority for the country’s military and drew attention to the growing threats of conflicts in the region, which has “turned into an object of territory resource and military strategy interests for a number of countries.”
“It can lead to the growing conflict potential in the region,” he said.
The tensions between London and Moscow have been growing since March, when former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter were poisoned in the Salisbury. The UK authorities have accused Russia of orchestrating the poisoning attack, which Moscow has persistently refuted. The Russian Foreign Ministry has sent some 60 diplomatic notes to the UK Foreign Office demanding that Russia be given access to the investigation and the injured Russian citizens, as well as requesting legal assistance and proposing cooperation, including on the joint inquiry. However, no response from the UK authorities has been received.