Warships, submarines, aircraft and coastal air defense units are engaged as Russia’s Northern Fleet train on protecting Russia’s Arctic maritime border with Norway.
Shortly after the Commander of the powerful Northern Fleet ordered his forces active for this year’s first command and staff exercise, two Russian fighter jets were detected on Norway’s radar systems outside Norwegian air space north of Finnmark.
Two F-35s from Evenes air base on alert for NATO were scrambled and met the Russian planes in international airspace, the Norwegian Armed Forces informs.
The two planes were one Su-24 and one MiG-31, both flying out from the Kola Peninsula. This is the second time in a few days that NATO scrambles F-35s for a routine inspection of Russian aircraft over the western part of the Barents Sea.
The scrambling on Tuesday happened only a few hours after two Su-27 aircraft according to US sources forced down MQ-9 drone over the Black Sea. Moscow claims the drone crashed on its own.
From its headquarters in Severomorsk north of Murmansk, the Northern Fleet informs that about 20 warships and support vessels are involved in the ongoing command and staff exercise. Five aircraft and 50 other military special equipment units take part in the training that according to the press service will last for several days.
The main task is to train combat scenarios to protect the Arctic borders of Russia.
Exercises underway elsewhere
Simultaneously as Admiral Aleksandr Moiseev ordered action from his forces, Norway’s Joint Viking exercise enters its second week, with about 20,000 soldiers from several NATO and partner countries inside the Arctic Circle.
Outside Northern Norway, the British naval exercise Joint Warrior also includes warships from several NATO countries.
Unlike during other larger exercises and NATO activities in Norway in recent years, Russia has this winter not issued any warnings of missile launches or other potentially dangerous military activities in international waters or airspace west or north of Norway.
Such NOTAM (Notice to airmen) warnings were frequently used by the Northern Fleet for the purpose of signaling Norway and its allies about Russia’s displeasure with presence of United States and other NATO forces on or outside Norway’s territory.
The only NOTAM warnings currently active in northern waters are in the Russian sector of the Barents Sea, in the areas normally used by the Northern Fleet when conducting naval artillery and rocket shootings. For an unknown reason, also larger parts of the White Sea are closed off for the period March 12 to 23.
The Northern Fleet frigate “Admiral Kasatonov” is currently sailing back towards Severomorsk after a one-year deployment to the eastern Mediterranean. The British navy has shadowed the warship through the English Channel in recent days and the vessel is expected to continue north along the coast of Norway in the week ahead.
Last December, Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shiougu announced that the country’s largest military exercise on the table will be Zapad-2023.
Such large-scale strategic exercises are arranged annually, and rotate from year to year between the country’s four military districts; east, south, central and west (Zapad is Russian for West).
Last Zapad exercise was in 2021, and Shoigu’s departure from the normal cycle by again announcing a Zapad exercise this year in multiple western directions is likely signaling to Russia’s own population that NATO and Europe are a threat, a narrative repeatedly being voiced from the Kremlin to boost patriotism and support for the ongoing war on Ukraine.
Related stories from around the North:
Canada:Int’l arctic cooperation needs to continue despite rupture with Russia: Canada’s GG,The Canadian Press
Greenland: Growing focus on Arctic puts Greenland at higher risk of cyber attacks: assessment, Eye on the Arctic
Iceland: Nordics should aim for common approach to China’s Arctic involvement says report, Eye on the Arctic
Norway: “It’s about time” U.S. ambassador to Norway says of Sweden, Finland’s NATO bids, The Independent Barents Observer
Russia: Moscow lowers ambitions in nuclear icebreaker program, The Independent Barents Obs
Sweden: NATO talks between Finland, Sweden and Turkey on right path, says Secretary-General, Eye on the Arctic
United States: U.S. nominates Alaskan as first Arctic ambassador, Eye on the Arctic