Around 330 U.S. Marines have been training in Vaernes, Norwary on a rotational basis since January, prompting Russian ire despite U.S. and Norwegian claims that the cold-weather training is focused on expanding U.S.-Norwegian cooperation, rather than as a part of the continued expansion of NATO defenses along Russia’s western flank. Now, Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soreide has announced that America’s Marine Corps presence in Norway will continue through 2018, and the Kremlin is once again voicing its complaints.
Marines will continue to deploy to Norway on six month rotations, where they will not only learn important facets of cold-weather combat, but they will continue to focus on “strengthening the development of joint leaders and teams who understand the synergy of air, sea, and land power as a potent asymmetric advantage in the battlefield.”
“Our Marines in Norway are demonstrating a high level of cooperation with our allies,” said Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Niel E. Nelson, commander of U.S. Marine Corps Forces Europe and Africa. “The more we train together alongside one another the stronger our Alliance becomes.”
The Kremlin, however, sees these deployments as a violation of Norway’s domestic policy that bans foreign military installations on their land, other than during times of war. The Russian government issued a statement on Saturday indicating that this decision would only weaken Norway’s relationship with Russia.
“We consider that this step contradicts Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace,” the Russian embassy wrote in a statement.
It further “makes Norway (a) not fully predictable partner, can also escalate tension and lead to destabilization of the situation in the Northern region,” it added.
Norway, along with a number of other small nations along Europe’s Eastern edge, are already worried about the state of their relationships with Russia – brought about the military annexation of Crimea in 2014. Since then, NATO has worked to increase its defensive posture in the region, aimed at swiftly intervening on behalf of allies if Russia chooses to expand its territory once again. U.S. military assets have been moving into the region, including more than 1,100 currently deployed to Poland, along with others working with international partners to establish battle groups in Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with the explicit role of countering potential Russian aggression.
However, despite defensive deployments and exercises throughout Eastern Europe, Norway has long contested Russia lumping Marine deployments to Vaernes with other operations aimed specifically at Russia’s military, despite Norway’s relative proximity to Russia.
“A high level of regular allied presence creates a stabilizing state of normality in times of peace, which contributes to deterrence and defense,” Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said in an official statement last week.
However, it may be Norway’s northern territory that has Russia most flustered, as Russia has made no secret about their intent to militarize the arctic.
“Norway, from our perspective on this side of the Atlantic, is an essential NATO ally with invaluable expertise in the North Atlantic and the Arctic, and we want to thank you for sharing that expertise with us, and for supporting the U.S. Marine Corps cold-weather training taking place today in Norway,” Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told Søreide when they met in Washington D.C. in May.
U.S. Defense officials say Norway’s decision to continue Marine deployments inside their nation “is a clear sign of the U.S. and Norwegian commitment to NATO and the strong partnership between our two countries on defense and security.”
Featured image courtesy of the Department of Defense