Russia queries Norway's decision to allow US troop presence

OSLO/BRUSSELS • The Kremlin is puzzled at the decision by its neighbour Norway to allow US troops to be stationed on its soil from next year, according to a Russian embassy official.

Oslo said on Monday it would allow some 330 US Marines to be billeted temporarily at the Vaernes military base in central Norway from January, the first foreign troops allowed to be posted on its territory since the end of World War II.

The Russian embassy in Oslo said: "Taking into account multiple statements of Norwegian officials about the absence of threat from Russia to Norway we would like to understand for what purposes is Norway so much willing to increase its military potential, in particular through stationing of American forces in Vaernes?"

Norway and Russia share a border in the Arctic. Vaernes lies about 1,000km from the Russian-Norwegian frontier.

For the past seven decades, Nato member Norway has had a policy of not allowing foreign troops to be stationed on its territory, although foreign Nato soldiers often conduct military exercises with local troops.

"The policy of non-stationing, which even withstood the test of the Cold War, has always been an advantage for Norway as a partner over other Nato countries," a Russian embassy spokesman said in an e-mailed statement, adding that Russia would "like to have the conclusive clarification of parameters, motives and aims" of the decision.

Norway did not specifically mention a Russian military threat when announcing the move on Monday. In a 2014 interview with Reuters, Defence Minister Ine Eriksen Soereide said Russia's annexation of Crimea showed that it had the ability and will to use military means to achieve political goals.

In Brussels, the US ambassador to Nato said the deployment was part of a "bilateral arrangement between US and Norway that goes back decades" and "not a Nato force".

"It is an upgrade, an increase in activity. As the US designs its national contributions across Europe, we want to have a very balanced approach," Mr Douglas Lute told a news conference. "We think a land presence in Norway, which opens opportunities for increased training... also makes sense. The Marines will get some good cold weather training."

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 27, 2016, with the headline 'Russia queries Norway's decision to allow US troop presence'. Print Edition | Subscribe