Ahead of election campaign, Russian Embassy condemns presence of U.S. Marines in Norway
Last Wednesday, Norway’s Government announced the decision to extend the rotational U.S. Marine Corps (USMC) force stationed at Værnes outside Trondheim in southern Norway. The 330 soldiers will continue to rotate through 2018.
In response, the Russian Embassy in Oslo writes on its Facebook site that this contradicts Norwegian policy of not deploying foreign military bases in the country in times of peace. «It steps out of line of the traditions of good neighborhood, makes Norway not fully predictable partner, can also escalate tension and lead to destabilization of the situation in the northern region,» the Embassy writes.
Norway’s Minister of Defense, Ine Eriksen Søreide, counters the argument and says it is not at all a question about any American base.
«The USMC has been doing cold weather exercise in Norway for several decades, and this longstanding practice will now be continued and developed further,» Eriksen Søreide says and underscores that allied training has been an integral part of Norway’s defense- and security policy for decades.
The 330 soldiers will, additionally to be stationed at Værnes, also train in cold climate further north and take part in exercises together with the Norwegian Armed Forces. None of them are, however, to train near the border to Russia in the north, like CNN wrongfully claimed last winter.
Russia’s Embassy does not agree on Norway’s statements on rotating-based soldiers.
«Statements that the deployment of American soldiers is rotation-based and not permanent should not mislead anyone as individual military servicemen will be rotated, while the presence itself will be permanent,» the Embassy writes.
According to Norwegian News Agency (NTB), the Government first wanted to extend the U.S. Marine Corps presence with three years, but when the issue was discussed at a meeting in the parliament’s Extended Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defense, it became clear that the majority of the members wanted one year at a time.
The lack of unanimous support by the parliamentarians to the minority Government’s suggestion to extend the U.S. Marines’ presence in Norway with three years could be one reason behind the Embassy’s hard-worded statement.
Tor Bukkvoll, head of the Russia programme at Norway’s Defence Research Establishment says the statement came because the decision was taken now.
«But, it is likely that they were also thinking about whether they could affect the Norwegian debate,» Bukkvoll says to the Barents Observer.
Norwegian parliamentary election takes place on September 11.
Especially in the north, Labor party and Socialist Party members have called for better contact with Russia, even in times of general cold winds between east and west. Especially Finnmark County argues it holds a special role in Norway due to its direct border to Russia.
Tor Bukkvoll says the statement fis probably more a reflection on the general relations between Russia and the West, rather than the relation between Norway and Russia. Bukkvoll, however, says the statement is clearly adapted to what happens in Norway.
«An important goal in Norwegian policy towards Russia is to be predictable, and it is therefore no coincidence that the statement claims Norway weakens exactly the predictability through the decision,» Bukkvoll says.
He argues it is becoming a problem that Russia turns up the volume on all statements. «It makes it difficult to distinguish between rhetoric and real concerns. I strongly doubt that 350 Marines at Værnes make them stay awake in the nights, while the concern for further development of NATO’s missile shield likely are more real.»
The Embassy statement includes both concerns on the missile shield and NATo soldiers in the Baltic when it hints countermeasures against Norway.
«Sending Norwegian soldiers to Lithuania to our borders, development of plans by Norway to join the NATO missile defense system and non-existence of full-fledged dialogue between our military makes us taking adequate measures to guarantee the protection of our country.»