28/10/2016 By Kjetil Stormark
The United States wants to practice moving a US Marine Corps brigade from Trondheim, on Norway’s west coast, to Sweden in the event military tensions escalate in the Baltic Sea region.
By KJETIL STORMARK / firstname.lastname@example.org
That scenario is part of the backdrop for the proposed arrival of 330 US Marines at a military camp adjacent to Værnes Air Station, near Trondheim, in January 2017, defence sources have told aldrimer.no. The US military unit is an advance guard with orders to set up exercises and sort out other details in cooperation with Sweden.
The United States apparently seeks to incorporate the training scheme into one or more of Sweden’s planned military exercises for 2017. Philip Simon, head of press for the Swedish Armed Forces, told aldrimer.no he is unfamiliar with the issue but would not rule out US participation in the Aurora 2017 exercise or the possibility of specific US input into what is to be practiced and where.
Biggest exercise in 20 years
Aurora 2017, planned for September next year, is to be the largest military exercise in Sweden in more than 20 years, according to the Swedish Armed Forces’ website. Simon indicated the exercise may be pushed to October.
“We’re in dialogue with various countries about participating in Aurora in 2017,” Simon said.
Will the United States participate in this exercise?
“It’s not impossible. We’re in dialogue with several countries. Nothing is clear yet, but we’re in communication with the Americans, among others. It is not entirely impossible that they will be allowed to participate in this exercise,” Simon said, but quickly added:
“The scenario you describe is actually a political matter. It is the government that must make any decision. I have not heard this discussed.”
US participation common
The Swedish Minister of Defence’s press secretary, Marinette Nyh Radebo, was also terse when asked to comment.
“I don’t know what kind of exercise this is. It is nothing I’m familiar with,” said Radebo, adding that there are plans for three or four military exercises in Sweden in which the US could participate in 2017.
“We have several exercises next year with participation from other countries,” she said. “But the details of the exercises are not something we generally make public. But we are open about which countries take part.”
Isn’t it now quite common for the US to take part in the exercises?
“Yes, indeed, it is. There have been several exercises where Sweden, several NATO countries and also Finland have been involved.”
Back door to Sweden
The planned deployment of a US Marine brigade would make use of pre-positioned materiel in US storage depots in Norway’s Trondelag region and potentially also of equipment that may be stored across the border in Sweden, permitting the unit to move south as an armoured, mechanized force.
The plan then calls for the responding brigade to be inserted somewhere on the Swedish south coast in order to defend the Swedish mainland or take part in hostilities that could erupt over Sweden’s Gotland archipelago. Analysts see these Baltic islands as a potential prize during any military escalation in the region. The experts fear Russia would try to seize Gotland as a base for area-denial operations at sea and in the air.
By taking possession of Gotland and stationing advanced missile systems in the greater Baltic region (the latter already accomplished), Russia would make it hard for NATO to transport reinforcements to its Baltic allies using the sea route.
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The chairman of the Swedish parliament’s defence committee, Allan Widman (Liberal), told SVT Thursday he believes there is a real danger of war.
“Be aware that this is not a matter of Swedish mass hysteria,” he said in an interview.
Russian officials in Moscow said yesterday that Russia is worried about treatment of Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. Analysts interpreted that as an indication Russia may be motivated to heighten tensions in the Baltic states in order to expand its scope for political or military maneuvering.
Aldrimer.no has been informed of the location in southern Sweden currently pinpointed as the destination for the US Marine brigade, but has chosen not to publicize it because of the increasingly uncertain security situation.
Norway’s Ministry of Defence would not comment on the information obtained by aldrimer.no.
“We do not comment on speculation,” special adviser Birgitte Frisch wrote in an email.
Aldrimer.no also sought comment from the US Marines Corps, without success.
The Norwegian parliament’s Enlarged Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence is set to meet on Monday to formally consider a US request to station 330 US Marines at Værnes in a fixed rotation, starting in January. It could not be determined whether the US Marines Corps has made Norway aware of its intentions or, if it has, whether the committee has been informed that the US desires to train for the deployment of a brigade to Sweden through Norway. Sources familiar with the political situation strongly suggested that was not the case.
“But we are aware that the plan is that the American and Norwegian soldiers are supposed to train together with both Swedish and Finnish soldiers,” a member of the committee said.
The committee chair, Anniken Huitfeldt (Labour Party), was unavailable for comment.
Uproar ensued on Wednesday after Swedish media reported that Russia has sent two corvettes from its Black Sea Fleet to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea. The warships carry long-range Kalibr cruise missiles, against which NATO has no specific countermeasures at present. The missiles are often outfitted with nuclear warheads and have a range of up to 2,600 km.
Russia previously announced the deployment of Iskander-M missiles in Kaliningrad. Iskander missiles can be equipped with tactical nuclear weapons, and have a range of about 500 km, possibly more. NATO is also unprepared to counter these missiles, as Russia is well aware, sources in NATO have told aldrimer.no.
Changing the balance
That is why military analysts believe Russia’s recent decisions are transforming the Baltic security situation.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has already warned that the Iskander-M deployment in Kaliningrad would affect the security outlook.
Widman, the Swedish parliament’s defence committee chairman, said Wednesday he interprets the deployment of Kalibr missiles as a Russian response to the decision to dispatch of 330 US Marine troops to Norway.
“We have seen before that every such decision had led to some reaction from the other side,” Widman said to the newspaper Aftonbladet. “This could also be linked to the recently implemented Iskander deployment in Kaliningrad. Trying to lock up access to the Baltic Sea has strategic significance, of course. They are trying to navigate their way to a strategic upper hand.”
Swedish Minister of Defence Peter Hultqvist declined to speculate for Aftonbladet whether Russia’s latest moves could be in response to the announced deployment of US soldiers at the Værnes garrison. Nor would he say whether Sweden considers the transfer of the two Russian corvettes to be temporary or permanent.