As if foreign cruise ships weren’t enough cause for concern during this second COVID-19 summer, are still under, Norway is now keeping an alert eye on a group of Russian warships that suddenly departed from an exercise at Franz Josef Land to the east and passing within 20 kilometers of coastlines in Svalbard, according to military officials and media reports.
The ships started sailing toward Svalbard on Tuesday, turning north at the southern tip of Spitsbergen and passing close to Isfjorden at midday Wednesday, The Independent Barents Observer reported. The mission of the ships is unclear to Norwegian officials, but the Russian navy’s movements are different than previous voyages into Arctic waters, Ivar Moen, a spokesperson with the Norwegian Armed Forces’ joint operational headquarters, told the news site.
“We are monitoring the vessels’ activities,” he said.
The vessels, led by the anti-submarine destroyer Severomorsk, departed Kola Bay for the Barents Sea last Tuesday for their 10th annual exercise in the Arctic along the Northern Sea Route. Sailing with the destroyer are the military tanker Sergei Osipov and the rescue tugboat Pamir.
A statement from Russia’s Coast Guard note the warships “will take part in several exercises to defend islands and continental territories of Russia in the Arctic, as well as to ensure the safety of maritime navigation and other types of Russian maritime economic activities in the Arctic zone. The patrol is scheduled to last about two months.
Russia has conducted numerous sea and air military excursions along Svalbard’s borders for many years, as well as in other Arctic areas including Alaska and Scandinavia, as part of its aggressive effort to expand its presence and control in the far north.