Nato starts largest drills since cold war, with troop, tank and plane manoeuvres on Russia’s doorstep
- 50,000 soldiers, hundreds of aircraft and thousands of military vehicles mobilised for massive show of force in central Norway
- But Norwegian politician argues it will only aggravate West’s ties with Russia: ‘You have to be quite hawkish to view this as something that brings peace’
Military forces from 31 countries began Nato’s largest exercise in decades, stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland, on Thursday, practising military manoeuvres close to Russia, which held its own huge military drill last month.
As temperatures fell below freezing across training grounds in central Norway, giving a taste of what it means to defend Nato’s vast northern flank, some 50,000 troops, 250 aircraft and 10,000 tanks, trucks and other land-based vehicles were ready.
“Forces are in position, they are integrating and starting combat enhancement training for major battlefield operations over the next two weeks,” said Colonel Eystein Kvarving at Norway’s Joint Headquarters.
Dubbed Trident Juncture, the exercise is by far the biggest in Norway since the early 1980s, a sign the alliance wants to sharpen its defences after years of cost cutting and far-flung combat missions.
The drills are based on a hypothetical scenario that involves restoring the Scandinavian country’s sovereignty after an attack by a “fictitious aggressor”.
Russia, which shares a border with Norway, was briefed by Nato and invited to monitor the exercises, but Moscow is still angered by them. Russia’s defence minister warned that Moscow could be forced to respond to increased Nato activity near its western border.
“Nato’s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the cold war times,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday, noting that the war games will be “simulating offensive military action”.
Last month Russia held its biggest manoeuvres since 1981, called Vostok-2018 (East-2018), mobilising 300,000 troops in a show of force close to China’s border which included joint drills with the Chinese and Mongolian armies.
Nato’s war games were originally meant to involve 35,000 troops, but the number grew to include the addition of an aircraft carrier, the USS Harry S. Truman, which has some 6,000 personnel.
Nato fears Russia’s military build-up in the region could ultimately restrict naval forces from navigating freely and on October 19 the Truman became the first American aircraft carrier to enter the Arctic Circle since before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Although most Norwegians support Nato membership, some parties on the left would prefer the country quit it and form a military alliance with its Nordic neighbours.
“The effect of this activity will increase the tension between Norway and Russia,” Socialist member of parliament Torgeir Knag Fylkesnes said of the exercise, saying the presence of an aircraft carrier caused particular concern. “You have to be quite hawkish to view this as something that brings peace in any way.”
Additional reporting by Associated Press