In what is being billed as an attempt to repel "Russian aggression" in the Nordic and Baltic regions, the Pentagon has announced plans to boost its European defense in 2017, with a significant ramp-up in joint military exercises with Nordic and Baltic partners, Defense News reported.
As part of the expansion, American forces have arranged for storage in Norway to house heavy equipment, including M1A1 Abrams tanks and amphibious assault vehicles. The US military reportedly deployed this equipment two weeks ago, in classified Cold War-era caves in Norway, in efforts to better equip stations near the NATO-Russia frontier. Norway shares a 121.6-mile long border with the Russian Federation.
In June, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented that NATO’s expansion along its border was "insane" and unnecessary. Specifically, President Putin said, "I think that only an insane person who is in a dream can imagine that Russia would suddenly attack NATO. I think some countries are simply taking advantage of people’s fears with regard to Russia."
Moscow accuses the US and NATO of intentionally destabilizing security and escalating tensions. Many international affairs experts share these concerns, noting that moves by the US in the region are increasing the likelihood of a confrontation with Moscow.
Stephen Cohen, a New York University professor emeritus specializing in Russian studies, goes further, arguing that NATO expansion is a prelude to conflict. "The last time I can remember there was this kind of hostile military force on Russia’s borders is when the Nazis invaded Russia in 1941," said Cohen.
Kåre Simensen, a Norwegian parliamentarian serving on the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, downplayed US military expansion and saber rattling along the Russian border, stating that "US military training with multinational troops in Norway and the High North should in no way be regarded by Russia as a provocation." Simensen stated that he expects "continued good relations with Moscow," observing that "Norway is part of NATO, so a US presence here is quite normal."
The $6 billion militarization along the border between Russia and Norway is funded, in part, by the “European Reassurance Initiative,” advanced by President Obama in recent weeks, calling for a quadrupling of the presence of the US military in Europe.
The expansion comes after US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter declared that Russia is “intimidating its neighbors.” In the past year, US military officials have made whimsical statements about Russia, calling it the "greatest threat" to world security. Spokespersons at the Pentagon and the current NATO commander have referred to Moscow as an "existential threat."
The situation is unlikely to resolve itself with a new presidential administration in 2017. The establishment favorite, Hillary Clinton, has consistently reiterated in national debate that Russia is America’s "greatest threat," propounding that "we have to send a clear message to Putin."