MOSCOW, Russia – British Defense Minister Gavin Williamson said the United Kingdom intends to strengthen the military presence in the Arctic to “protect” NATO’s northern flank from Russia’s actions, according to The Telegraph.
According to the newspaper, more than 1,000 British Navy marines will conduct annual training with Norwegian colleagues as part of a 10-year program, forming a new detachment in the near future, Williamson said during a visit to the military base in Bardufoss, Norway.
The British minister also mentioned that the United Kingdom will send to the Arctic region next year a Poseidon P8 maritime patrol plane to monitor the growing activity of Russian submarines.
“We want to improve our capabilities under sub-zero temperatures, learning from past allies, such as Norway, or monitoring underwater threats with our Poseidon aircraft. We will keep an eye on new challenges,” Williamson said.
The minister also added that the activity of Russian submarines in the Arctic has increased in recent years. In 2017, the Royal Navy had to intercept 33 Russian ships that approached the territorial waters of the United Kingdom, compared to a single incident in 2010.
In 2020, the Royal Air Force will receive at its base in Lossiemouth, Scotland, new P8 Poseidon aircraft that will carry out reconnaissance missions in a wide area covering the North Atlantic and the Arctic. One of its functions will be to protect British nuclear submarines.
Gavin Williamson often makes strong statements about Russia. At the Munich Security Conference he devoted an important part of his speech to the “Moscow threat”. The British minister says that after Brexit, London must “strengthen its global presence” and “increase lethality of its weapons”.
Russia notes the increase in NATO armed forces in the Arctic and wants to find out what the alliance wants to achieve in the region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.
“We note the increase in NATO members’ activities, and we discuss this with our Norwegian neighbors,” he said at the Munich Security Conference. “We want to understand what kind of mandate NATO will have in the Arctic.”
He criticized the rhetoric of some Western officials and was ironic in referring to the British defense minister.
“If you hear some people like the War Minister, oh, sorry, UK defense minister [Gavin Williamson], then you may get the impression that no one except NATO has the right to be anywhere except its own borders, “Lavrov pointed out.
Russia, for its part, has proposed a series of projects to the Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for countries bordering the region. “We do not believe that Arctic cooperation requires any military dimension, and I hope this is the case for our partners as well,” added the Russian minister.
The UK has repeatedly voiced concerns about Russia’s alleged growing military presence in the Arctic region and the alleged attempt to militarize it. London also said it feared that navigation in the Arctic might be limited as a result of disputes.
Moscow has consistently rejected the allegations, noting that it regards the Arctic as an area of egalitarian cooperation and free of national conflicts of interest.
In August, Vladimir Barbin, the Russian ambassador and senior Arctic official, pointed to NATO’s military advance in the region, citing exercises Trident Junction 18, the alliance’s decision to establish the new Joint Force Force for the Atlantic and Washington to re-establish its Second Fleet operating mainly in the North Atlantic.