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In A Remote Arctic Outpost, Norway Keeps Watch On Russia's Military Buildup – NPR, Npr.org

In A Remote Arctic Outpost, Norway Keeps Watch On Russia's Military Buildup – NPR, Npr.org


      

            

    

    

        

                Norwegian Pvt. Ivan Sjoetun sits in the border post where Russian land can be seen out the window. The post is in the far northeast corner of Norway and offers a commanding view of this starkly beautiful area some 250 miles above the Arctic Circle.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        Norwegian Pvt. Ivan Sjoetun sits in the border post where Russian land can be seen out the window. The post is in the far northeast corner of Norway and offers a commanding view of this starkly beautiful area some 250 miles above the Arctic Circle.        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

There are precisely 525 stairs from the icy waters of the Barents Sea to the top of the observation post in the far northeast corner of Norway, along the Russian border. It’s a steep climb, but once you reach the apex, there’s a good chance one of the young Norwegian conscripts manning the outpost will have a platter of waffles – topped with strawberry jam and sour cream, a Norwegian favorite – waiting.

            

    

    

        

                These waffles were made by Sander Bader, 19, in the observation post where he and other privates stay while they keep an eye on the Russian border activities.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        

These waffles were made by Sander Bader, 19, in the observation post where he and other privates stay while they keep an eye on the Russian border activities.

        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

The border post, OP 247, offers a commanding view of this starkly beautiful area some 250 miles above the Arctic Circle. To the east, on the other side of the border, is a Russian observation post and a coast guard facility. Directly ahead, across the Barents Sea, is the small Norwegian island of Vardo, which houses aUS-funded military surveillance radar system

“Apparently it’s annoying the Russians a lot, “says Capt. Sigurd Harsheim, commander of Jarfjord border company, because the radar installation helps keep an eye on Russian movements in the High North. “Basically you have good control of the entire Barents Sea and everything around it … and I think part of the irritation is that it’s American built.”

            

                  

World's Largest Shipping Company Heads Into Arctic As Global Warming Opens The Way

                

          

       

There’s good reason recently to keep a line of sight on Russia, whose sheer land mass overwhelms the seven otherArcticnations. Warming temperatures areopening up shipping lanesand uncovering the polar region’s abundant natural resources. And now several nations are engaging in a military buildup of the Arctic. Russia is upgrading its military capabilities with new fighter jets and navy vessels, and its submarines are pushing farther into the North Atlantic. Norwegian military officials say Russia is also carrying out cruise missile tests and live-fire military exercises. That is forcing its neighbor, Norway, and other NATO members to rethink their military strategy in the region.

            

    

    

        

                More than 500 stairs are built into the side of the mountain where the Norwegian military observation post is located near the Russian border.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        

More than 500 stairs are built into the side of the mountain where the Norwegian military observation post is located near the Russian border.

        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

“[The Russians] are rebuilding the Northern Fleet, building new submarines; they’re flying more; they are exercising more in the northwest of Russia with their battalions,” Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen tells NPR.

            

    

    

        

                A number of countries crowd the Arctic. Marked here are Porsangermoen, a Norwegian military camp; Vardo, an island in Norway where the U.S. has funded a military radar system; the Norwegian observation post 247 that overlooks Russia; and Kola Peninsula, the home of Russia’s Northern Fleet.                                                                           Sean McMinn / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Sean McMinn / NPR              

    

    

        

A number of countries crowd the Arctic. Marked here are Porsangermoen, a Norwegian military camp; Vardo, an island in Norway where the U.S. has funded a military radar system; the Norwegian observation post 247 that overlooks Russia; and Kola Peninsula, the home of Russia’s Northern Fleet.

        

                         Sean McMinn / NPR                          

   

   

The center of Russia’s Arctic military activities is the Kola Peninsula, in the far northwest of the country, next to Norway. “Out on the Kola Peninsula … you’ll see that … they’re modernizing and rebuilding and also building new facilities,” says Maj. Brynjar Stordal, a spokesman for the Norwegian Joint Headquarters. “There’s a lot more activity and more new equipment. And we also see that the tactics are becoming more advanced.”

            

    

    

        

                Capt. Sigurd Harsheim stands at the base of the mountains where the observation post sits. Russia is steadily building up military bases and its nuclear arsenal in the Arctic.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        Capt. Sigurd Harsheim stands at the base of the mountains where the observation post sits. Russia is steadily building up military bases and its nuclear arsenal in the Arctic.        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

The heavily militarized Kola Peninsula is also a base for the Russian navy’s Northern Fleet, says Thomas Nilsen, a journalist whocovers the regionfor the Independent Barents Observer online newspaper, based in Kirkenes, Norway.

“This is the home of the nuclear-powered submarines. This is the home of the [Russian] Spetsnaz special marine forces, “Nilsen says. He says the Kola Peninsula is also a key training area for Russia’s new weapons such as nuclear-powered cruise missiles and the nuclear-powered underwater drone.

Nilsen says Russia’s buildup is due in part to its deteriorated trust with the West and to protecting military assets in the High North, including its natural resources. Ninety percent of Russia’s natural gas exports come from Yamal Peninsula in the Arctic.

“We always have to remember that for Russia, the Arctic is economically and enormously important, “Nilsen says. “So the Arctic has a much stronger role in Russia’s national thinking than in any of the other Arctic states, including Norway.”

The Russian government, meanwhile , has long expressed concerns about NATO’s expansion near its borders. In June 2018, theRussian Embassy in Oslo complained thata Norwegian request for more US troops “could cause growing tensions, triggering an arms race and destabilizing the situation in northern Europe.”

Still, the extent of Moscow’s aggression in the region has taken Western nations by surprise. In the years after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War, the US and NATO shuttered Arctic bases and moved weaponry and other assets out of the region. The Arctic region was peaceful, as Russia stopped being a concern, says Col. Joern Erik Berntsen, the commander of Norway’s Finnmark Land Defense. That changed in 2014 When Russia annexed Crimea.

            

    

    

        

                Two privates walk on the mountain just outside the border post.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        

Two privates walk on the mountain just outside the border post.

        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

“The operations in the Ukraine was kind of a game-changer for NATO and for us,” he says. “The security situation in the world has definitely changed; we are more or less back where we were before the fall of the wall.”

       

Berntsen says after Russia’s actions in Crimea, Norway needed to reexamine its security situation. It went on a buying spree, acquiring submarines from Germany and dozens of F – 35 fighter jets from the United States. Norway is also rebuilding and rearming some of its own bases.

One of those is Porsangermoen, the world’s northernmost military camp, set among rolling hills and ponds in the county of Finnmark. In October, about 1, 400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. There was snow on the ground, and a cold wind sliced ​​through layers of clothing. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions.

            

    

    

        

                Snow falls on artillery battery near the Porsangermoen military base, where soldiers participate in military exercises in northern Norway. It is the world’s northernmost military camp.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        Snow falls on artillery battery near the Porsangermoen military base, where soldiers participate in military exercises in northern Norway. It is the world’s northernmost military camp.        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

“Fighting during winter conditions is probably the hardest you can do,” says Platoon Commander Lt. Benjamin Thompson. “That demands a lot of training.”

Thompson, wearing a partially white camouflage uniform, says he has also had to train U.S. troops that have been rotating into the country over the past couple of years. The U.S. hashundreds of service members, mainly Marines, stationed farther south in Norway.

            

    

    

        

                Platoon Commander Lt. Benjamin Thompson at Norway’s military base. “Fighting during winter conditions is probably the hardest you can do,” he said.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

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                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        Platoon Commander Lt. Benjamin Thompson at Norway’s military base. “Fighting during winter conditions is probably the hardest you can do,” he said.        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   

“They were struggling in the beginning but after a while they became really good and learned a lot of important things to do during wintertime to be able to survive,” he says.

Norway has lobbied the US and other NATO allies for a stronger presence and more military exercises in the Arctic. Last year, Norway was the key staging ground for Trident Juncture, one of the NATO’s biggest military exercises since 2002.

Two years ago, NATO reestablished an Arctic command, now out of Norfolk, Va., and the US Navyrecommissioned the 2nd Fleetto counter Russian activity in the North Atlantic.

Norway’s defense minister, Bakke-Jensen, is pleased. “We have been working through NATO and with the U.S. to bring attention back to the North Atlantic, to these areas,” he tells NPR. “We are satisfied with the new command structure; we are satisfied with the command control in Norfolk.”       

In September, the U.S. flew a B-2 stealth bomber over the Arctic. James Townsend, who spent two decades working on NATO policy at the U.S. Department of Defense, says the mission helped send a signal to the Russians.

“The B-2 was showing that we can fly up there and showing the Russians that we will fly up there, “he says. “It was a training thing on the one hand, but it’s also a deterrent message to the Russians too.”

Townsend, now with the Center for a New American Security, says it is important for the US to know what’s going on in the Arctic, but not get spooked by Russia’s buildup.

“What we don’t want to do is to back into a military conflict or military arms race, or back into militarization of the Arctic if we don’t have to, “he says.

            

    

    

        

                In October, about 1, 400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions.                                                                           Claire Harbage / NPR                                                      hide caption            

            

toggle caption    

    

                 Claire Harbage / NPR              

    

    

        

In October, about 1, 400 Norwegian troops carried out military exercises at the camp. Part of their training was how to fight under winter conditions.

        

                         Claire Harbage / NPR                          

   

   Berntsen of the Finnmark Ground Defense says too large a U.S. military presence in the Arctic could provoke Russia. For now, he says, it is best to build up Norway’s forces and be ready to defend itself from its eastern neighbor.

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