On Thursday, Russia publicly criticized Norway’s plans to ask the United States to double the number of US troops stationed in the Scandinavian country and position them closer to the border with Russia.
The plans “cause us serious concern,” the Russian Embassy in Norway wrote on its Facebook page.
Before joining NATO in 1949, Norway relieved Soviet fears by committing to keeping its territory free from foreign combat troops, provided it was not attacked or threatened with attack.
The positioning of US troops in Norway “runs counter to the Norwegian decision of 1949 … This makes Norway less predictable, can fuel tensions, incite an arms race and lead to a destabilization of the situation in northern Europe,” the Russian embassy wrote.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, has claimed that Russia has no cause for concern.
“Norwegian and allied forces are training to defend the territory of Norway and pose no threat to Russia,” said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon, quoted by the AFP news agency, adding that the US military presence is in line with the Norwegian policy on the stationing of foreign troops.
The policy “does not prevent allied exercises and training in Norway,” he argued in a statement.
The Oslo announcement came after 9 nations along “NATO’s eastern flank” last week called for the alliance to strengthen its presence in their region. Since last year, 330 US marines have been rotated in Vaernes, central Norway, despite strong Russian protests.
Oslo now wants to increase the number of troops to 700 and put them further north in Setermoen, 420 kilometers from Russia. The US deployment agreement would also be extended from the current renewable periods from 6 months to 5 years.
“The defense of Norway depends on the support of our NATO allies, as is the case with most other NATO countries,” Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said in a statement. “For this support to work in times of crisis and war, we are totally dependent on joint training and peacetime exercises,” he added.
Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia called on Friday for NATO to discuss increased military presence in their region at next month’s leaders summit in Brussels. The group said it was necessary to supplement current NATO ground forces “with air and naval components”.
NATO has persistently strengthened its offensive military infrastructure in Central and Eastern Europe under the pretext of a “Russian threat” following Crimea’s reunification with Russia through in 2014.
Norway has insisted that it is respecting its 1949 compromise, noting that the presence of the troops is not permanent but rotating. However, Moscow has rejected this argument. “Even if the real people are moved, the positioning is continuous.”
Russia also expressed “concern” that these “plans were agreed in Oslo without any real bilateral political dialogue”.