Russia aims its missile drills shoulder-to-shoulder with NATO's biggest war games in years

US Army/Sgt. 1st Class Michael O’BrienBritish and US soldiers are transported to a training mission in a US Army 12th Combat Aviation Brigade Chinook helicopter near Rena, Norway on October 27, 2018.
  • Russia has expressed dismay about NATO’s massive Trident Junctur exercise.
  • The exercise is NATO’s largest drills in nearly 20 years, and comes amid growing tensions between the alliance and Russia.
  • Now Moscow is planning its own exercises right next to where NATO forces to carrying out their drills.

Since October 25, tens of thousands of NATO troops and hundreds of ships, planes, and vehicles have been roaming across Norway and plying the air and waters of the Norwegian and Baltic seas as part of exercise Trident Juncture.

Forces from every NATO member country as well as Finland and Sweden are taking part in the exercise, which runs through November 7 and is NATO’s largest such drills in nearly 20 years.

As an Article 5 exercise, Trident Juncture “will simulate NATO’s collective response to an armed attack against one ally,” Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said this month. “And it will exercise our ability to reinforce our troops from Europe and across the Atlantic.”

“This is a necessary exercise” to “send a strong signal of unity,” Stoltenberg said on Tuesday, as he visited the maneuvers.

NATO Jens Stoltenberg Trident JunctureSgt Marc-André Gaudreault/JFC Brunssum ImageryNATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg meets with Canadian soldiers during Exercise Trident Juncture 2018 Distinguished Visitor Day in Trondheim, Norway, October 30, 2018.

The exercise comes amid growing concern among NATO members about Russian behaviour, particularly after Moscow’s 2014 incursion in Ukraine.

Stoltenberg has said that the drills will be “fictitious but realistic” and are “purely to prevent, not to provoke,” but Russia has still blanched at a massive exercise taking place so close to its boundaries and involving so many of its neighbours.

Read more: As NATO gets ready for its biggest military exercise in years, things are heating up closer to Russia

“NATO’s military activities near our borders have reached the highest level since the Cold War,” Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu said on October 24, adding that Trident Juncture will be “simulating offensive military action.”

Russia’s Foreign Ministry also said last week that while NATO says the exercise is defensive in nature, “this show of military force is clearly anti-Russian.”

Now Moscow is planning its own show of force not far from where NATO troops will be active.

The Russian navy will carry out rocket tests between November 1 and November 3 in the Norwegian Sea, in international waters west of the cities of Kristiansund, Molde, and Alesund.

According to a notice posted Wednesday by Dylan White, a NATO press officer, Russian rocket tests are also scheduled to take place farther north between November 6 and November 9.

NATO has said its exercises will take place in central and eastern Norway, as well as “the surrounding areas of the North Atlantic and the Baltic Sea, including Iceland and the airspace of Finland and Sweden.”

NATO Trident Juncture Russian rocket testsGoogle Maps/NATO/RussiaCoordinates given for Russian rocket tests in early November, left, partially overlap with NATO’s area of operations for the Trident Juncture exercise, right, which runs through November 7.

US Marines practiced amphibious landings in Iceland days before Trident Juncture began. This week they carried out the same manoeuvre on beaches east of where Russian naval forces will carry out their tests starting Thursday.

Earlier this month, the USS Harry S. Truman became the first US aircraft carrier north of the Arctic Circle in nearly 30 years when it sailed into the Norwegian Sea for Trident Juncture-related operations.

Stoltenberg said Russia notified NATO about the planned drills last week.

Read more: The US military’s largest base outside the US just got its biggest ammo delivery in 20 years

Erik Lodding, a spokesman for the Norwegian state firm that runs the country’s airports, said Russia had given the company notice of the tests, calling it “a routine message.”

“There is nothing dramatic about this. We have noted it and will follow the Russian maneuvers,” said Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen.

US Navy Adm. James Foggo, who is overseeing Trident Juncture, said Russia has been monitoring the drills with “curiosity,” based on recent Russian troop movements by air and sea in the region, but he did not elaborate on their activities.

US Marine Corps Navy amphibious landing LCAC Norway Trident JunctureUS Marine Corps/Sgt. Averi CoppaUS Marines and sailors conduct an amphibious landing on a Landing Craft Air Cushion during Exercise Trident Juncture 18 in Alvund, Norway, October 29, 2018.

Russia shares a northern border with Norway, and the Russian Northern Fleet, as well as Russia’s submarine-based nuclear weapons, are based on the Kola Peninsula, not far from the Norwegian border. (Russia has also increased its military presence in the Arctic in recent years.)

Stoltenberg acknowledged that Moscow “has a sizable presence in the north,” and that “Large [Russian] forces take part in maneuvers and they practice regularly” in the area. On Wednesday, Russia said two of its Tupolev-160 strategic bombers carried out a routine mission over the Barents and Norwegian seas.

On Tuesday, Stoltenberg said NATO expected Russian forces to “act in a respectable way” as they conducted drills in proximity to NATO forces.

He also said NATO drills would continue as planned. “I don’t expect that that will cause any serious problems, but as I said we will follow the movement of the Russian maritime capabilities closely, and they are informed about our exercise, so we do whatever we can to avoid any dangerous situation.”

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