(GPA) Oslo – For the first time since World War Two, US soldiers have arrived in Norway to conduct training about 1,500 km from the border shared with Russia.
Around 300 US Marines arrived in Norway on Monday for six months of winter training. Officials from both the US and Norway are playing down any claims that the new deployment has anything to do with the “Russian aggression” that has previously been the cause of NATO deployments in the Baltic region and Poland.
According to Norwegian Home Guards spokesperson, Rune Haarstad, the marines are in the country for “basic winter training,” and this “has nothing to do with Russia or the current situation.” This is just the first group of marines to arrive and after the six months of training they will be replaced by another group of marines for an additional six months.
Besides the innocent sounding ‘winter training,’ NATO officials also confirmed that the Marines would be participating in Joint Viking exercises with British and Norwegian troops while they’re stationed in the area.
Russia is agitated by the deployment as you might have expected. A Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told Norwegian public broadcaster, NRK that the new troops in Norway “certainly will not improve relations.” She went on to clarify that the “relationship between Norway and Russia is put to a test now. Instead of developing economic cooperation, Norway is choosing to deploy United States troops on Norwegian soil.”
Tensions between Norway and Russia have been building for quite some time. Norwegian leaders spoke out against the annexation of Crimea in 2014 saying that it showed Russia was “willing to use military means to annex territory” The country is also feeding off the fears of its neighbors following an incident in October 2014 when an alleged Russian vessel appeared off the coast of Sweden, and an instance in 2015, when their other neighbor, Finland dropped depth charges as a response to what they claim was a Russian submarine in the waters.
Some Norwegian’s are also unhappy with the deployment however. Morten Harper, a leftist local government member of the area where the military base is located, denounced the new troop presence saying that this unwisely drags the Norwegian people into the “power struggle” between the US and Russia. Harper said he feels that “if there ever was to be a major conflict between the great powers in the future, this makes us a more likely bomb target.”
Another critic of the Marines’ presence was Norwegian Peace Council member, Hedda B. Langemyr who says the arrival of US troops violates Norway’s tradition of not allowing foreign troop deployments on their soil. She was also concerned that these kinds of gestures “might give the hawks in Moscow arguments for a continued arms race.”
The troops arrived just as US president-elect Donald Trump told German media in an interview that he felt NATO was “obsolete,” leaving members like the Baltic states and Norway more nervous than before. In response to this, some prominent members of the leading German opposition party have called for a potential security alliance with Russia instead of the US. As the political shift towards populism continues in Europe some of this could materialize and should German chancellor Angela Merkel lose her reelection bid, the whole structure of NATO may undergo radical change.