Shortly before Dmitry Rogozin was thumbing his nose at Norway by visiting Svalbard and hundreds of Russian soldiers were training on the ice north of the archipelago, a far more massive invasion of the area south of here was being practiced.
About 33,000 troops participated in a simulated blitzkrieg invasion of northern Norway and other parts of the region from March 21 to 25, according to a report published June 24 by the Center for European Policy Analysis, a U.S. security think tank. The report, analyzing the possibility of an invasion of the Baltic States by Russia, states the exercise was a scenario intended to limit NATO intervention.
“The scenario included the speedy seizure of northern Norway, the Åland islands (demilitarized Finnish territory, populated by Swedish-speakers), the Swedish island of Gotland and the Danish island of Bornholm,” wrote Edward Lucas, a former reporter for The Economist, who authored the report. “If carried out successfully, control of those territories would make it all but impossible for NATO allies to reinforce the Baltic states.”
Svalbard is not mentioned in the report, but Rogozin’s visit and Russia’s increasingly aggressive military activities along the borderlines of Norway’s Arctic have increased tensions between the two countries in recent months. Separate analysts have suggested Svalbard may be a prime target for Russian expansion since the country considers the Svalbard Treaty unfairly discriminatory.
In addition, Rogozin, who touched off a furor with his April visit despite being banned in Norway and other Western countries due to his role in the Ukraine crisis, has continued his provocation by making statements such as the Arctic and Crimea being “all about the same” and declaring the northern region to be Russia’s Mecca.
The large-scale exercise in March appears to be a continuation of an extreme propaganda war by Russia, said Norwegian Defense Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide in an interview with Verdens Gang.
We have a presence and a good situational awareness in our region, and are following developments closely,” she said. “As I have pointed out repeatedly, we are seeing increasing complexity in Russian’s exercise patterns in our region.”
The report recommends Norway and other Scandinavian countries bolster their defense readiness and resolve differences among themselves in that area.
“Norway, which has by far the largest interests in the Arctic, fears that the other countries do not understand the threats and opportunities it faces,” Lucas wrote.
But the report acknowledges the likelihood of such an invasion is slight and Katarzyna Zysk, an associate professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defence Studies, told VG Russia appears to have a far stronger interest in the Baltic region.
“We have seen a number of provocative Russian exercises in the Baltic States by plane and ship,” she said. “As far as I know there has not been the same in the northern regions of Norway. There have been some cases, but not with the same degree of intensity as we have seen in the Baltic and the Black seas.”