US Marines land in Norway for rotational deployment

Initiative annoys Russia amid rising tensions with West over Ukraine crisis, Syrian conflict

OSLO • Some 300 United States Marines arrived in Norway yesterday for a rotational deployment in the Scandinavian country, to neighbouring Russia's dismay amid rising tensions with the West.

After leaving North Carolina aboard a chartered 747 aircraft on Sunday evening, the troops landed with their luggage and weapons at the Vaernes airport, near the central town of Trondheim, television footage showed.

Nato member Norway announced in October last year that it had accepted a US request to station troops on its soil.

The deployment, by rotation so as not to anger Moscow, has been presented as a one-year test to enable the Marines to train and conduct exercises with the Norwegian army in harsh conditions.

However, the initiative has annoyed Russia, amid rising tensions with the West over the Ukraine crisis and the conflict in Syria.

This "for sure, won't make better the security situation in Northern Europe," a spokesman for the Russian embassy in Oslo, Mr Maxim Gurov, told Agence France- Presse in an October e-mail.

Before joining Nato in 1949, Norway allayed Russian fears by pledging not to open its territory to foreign combat troops, "as long as it is not under attack or threat of attack".

The Norwegian government has argued that Nato troops regularly carry out exercises in the country and that deployment by rotation is not the same as opening a permanent US base.

Until now, the US has had large quantities of military materiel pre-positioned in tunnels dug into Norway's mountains, but no troops.

Meanwhile, a close ally of President Vladimir Putin has said Russia is ready to resume cooperation with the US on security issues, such as the fight against terrorism and cyber crime.

In an interview published yesterday, Mr Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of Russia's Security Council, struck a cautiously positive tone on the prospects for collaboration with Washington after a period of icy relations under President Barack Obama.

"If Donald Trump's administration is interested, we will be ready to resume full-format consultations with our American partners through the Russian Federation's Security Council," Mr Patrushev told the government-controlled daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

He added that he did not expect rapid improvements or a swift lifting of sanctions he said the West had deliberately imposed to "hold Russia back", because the two sides were starting from such a low base.

Mr Patrushev made his comments days ahead of the inauguration of Mr Trump and before the US President-elect told Britain's Sunday Times newspaper in a weekend interview that he would propose offering to end sanctions imposed on Russia over its annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region in return for a nuclear arms reduction deal with Moscow.

The Kremlin said yesterday it would wait until Mr Trump takes office on Friday before commenting on any proposals. Any agreements to resume cooperation would have to be guided by the principles of mutual respect and equality, said Mr Patrushev.

Mr Putin himself chairs Russia's Security Council. Mr Trump has said Russia can be an important ally against militant Islamist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Mr Trump, who has praised Mr Putin as "very smart", has signalled that he wants to improve ties with Russia, despite US intelligence agencies alleging the Kremlin chief ordered a cyber campaign to discredit rival Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential race.

Russia has denied that it tried to sway the US election by hacking or other means.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'US Marines land in Norway for rotational deployment'. Print Edition | Subscribe