Scandinavian voyage of the Russian Defense Minister

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Moscow pays much attention to the Scandinavian direction of its foreign policy. It is possible to draw this conclusion from results of the visit of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov to Sweden and Norway between October 30 and 31.

Talking to journalists, Ivanov reported that in 2007, it was planned to organize Russian-Swedish exercises of special forces on the territory of Russia. He said, “Bilateral exercises of special forces Snowflake-2006 were conducted in difficult Arctic conditions at the beginning of 2006 in Sweden. Next year we plan to conduct a similar exercise on the territory of Russia.”

The region is also important for Russia in the military economic aspect. Being in Stockholm Ivanov stated that military hydrographic ships would be used in construction of the North European gas pipeline. This was probably done not incidentally. Most likely the Defense Minister wanted to check reaction of Scandinavian leaders to the new plans for use of the Russian navy. Moreover so that Russia and Norway have unsolved problems in use of the Arctic seabed for production of hydrocarbons. On October 31, Ivanov was present at the Swedish naval exercises Sammarin-2006. Such things do not happen in the Russian-Swedish relations very often. According to Swedish Defense Minister Mikael Udenberg, the exercises were conducted according to NATO standards and were aimed at “improvement of operational compatibility and capability of the military units in the course of peacekeeping operations.” It is known that Sweden like Russia does not plan to enter NATO. However, according to the Swedish Defense Minister, these exercises are important for close interaction in peacekeeping operations and in strengthening common European security. Such events are organized by Russia too.

Despite its small armed forces that are currently being reduced Sweden plays an important military role in the north of Europe. Spending only 1.6% of the GDP on defense needs (in Russia this parameter amounts to 2.65% of the GDP) this country manufactures combat airplanes and armored vehicles independently and forms the so-called “northern” battalion of the European rapid response forces.

According to Swedish military sources, by 2007, Sweden will delegate 1,100 servicemen to this battalion consisting of 1,500 servicemen. The remaining 400 servicemen will be delegated on the parity basis by Finland and Norway, although the latter is not a member of the European Union. The combat units that constitute the European rapid response forces will be in permanent combat readiness and will be able to be prepared fully for operations in less than ten days. These should mostly be peacekeeping operations.

Russia has generally a positive attitude to such plans because it takes the European rapid response forces as a counterpart to NATO influence. Meanwhile, Moscow has already expressed its concern about the fact that Sweden and other Scandinavian countries reassign a part of discarded combat hardware to the Baltic republics increasing their military potential. As a counterbalance to this, at the end of the 1990s, Moscow demonstrated good will and reduced the ground and naval groups in the Leningrad Military District and Kaliningrad Region 40%. In general, this group fulfills only defensive tasks.

Meanwhile, such reductions do not solve security problems, especially on the border with Norway being a NATO member state.

Offensive elements of the maritime landing operations are fulfilled during large NATO exercises conducted in Norway almost annually. As a rule, their plans are connected with actions of multinational groups of NATO forces in crisis situations that can be easily projected to relations between Russia and Norway about the problems of continental shelf division and disputes about Spitzbergen. A powerful radar station was put into operation in the north of Norway near Varde in the framework of Globe-II project with financial support of the US in 2000. According to Russian military, this radar station gathers intelligence information about ballistic missiles launched from Plesetsk cosmodrome and from the Barents Sea. This radar can efficiently control movements of ships of the Northern Fleet, as well as airspace above the Arctic Ocean. It is possible that the Norwegian radar station will be a component of the American antimissile defense system deployed in Europe.

Meanwhile, meetings of Ivanov with Norwegian leaders show that Moscow manifests good will still and is inclined to active military cooperation with this country. Meeting with Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, Defense Minister Anne-Grete Strem-Ericsen and chair of the parliamentary defense committee Yan Petersen Ivanov discussed issues of development of relations between the Russian and Norwegian defense ministries and the ways of strengthening peace, security and confidence in the north of Europe.

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