A group of 300 Marines arrived near Russia’s border in Norway for a six-month-long deployment, further ramping up U.S. tensions with Russia and making some Norwegian observers nervous.
U.S. troops are set to stay in Norway for a year, but the first group of Marines, hailing from Camp Lejeune, plan to cycle out once they hit the six-month mark, Reuters reports.
The first force of 300 Marines landed at the Vaernes military base in Norway Monday, which is approximately 900 miles from the Russian border.
The purpose of the deployment, which is the first to the region since World War II, is to train Marines in winter warfare and how to survive the unforgiving arctic climate. Later, the Marines will embark on the Joint Viking Exercises, the main point of which is to practice the defense of Norway. British forces will also take part.
Rune Haarstad, a spokesman for the Norwegian Home Guards, the group hosting the Marines, insisted that the new deployment has nothing at all to do with Russia.
While the arrangement is indeed separate from NATO, if a conflict were to erupt, since Norway is a member of NATO, these Marines would likely end up under NATO command.
“For the first four weeks they will have basic winter training, learn how to cope with skis and to survive in the Arctic environment,” Haarstad said, according to Reuters. “It has nothing to do with Russia or the current situation.”
Back when the deployment of Marines was first announced in October, Russia reacted negatively, with a prominent legislator involved in defense issues remarking that the Kremlin viewed the incoming Marines as a military threat.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman from the Russian Foreign Ministry, stated Monday that the new deployment will hamper relations between Russia and Norway.
“The relationship between Norway and Russia is put to a test now,” Zakharova said, according to The New York Times. “Instead of developing economic cooperation, Norway is choosing to deploy United States troops on Norwegian soil.”
A leftist politician responsible for the area of the Norwegian military base hosting the Marines said that the deployment threatens to drag Norway into a U.S.-Russia struggle.
“We see an ever more tense foreign policy situation,” said Morten Harper, a member of the local assembly. “If there ever was to be a major conflict between the great powers in the future, this makes us a more likely bomb target.”