Robert HARNEIS -TDO- (FRANCE)- For the first time since the Cold War of the 1980s, NATO has sent surface warships into the Barents Sea. However, other Western European allies stayed in port, not wishing to antagonize Russia unnecessarily.

Norway, a country that claims to be “NATO in the north”, appears to have no appetite for gratuitous anti-Russian naval provocations and did not participate either with ships, planes or personnel in the U.S. and British exercise.

“The exercise took place in international waters. We didn’t participate this time,” said spokesperson for the Norwegian Armed Forces, Major Brynjar Stordal.

Significantly, two weeks before the exercise, the Norwegian government presented its new long-term plan for the Armed Forces. Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen then stated:

“If Norway does not have a regular and predictable presence in the North, a space could open for allies or others to fill. Such a development could have negative consequences for stability and Norway might lose influence on the security development in its own neighborhood.” Norway’s long-term military plan, covering the period 2020 to 2024, calls for a “significant strengthening” of the military. 

Russia has made no secret of its hostility to military operations by NATO-members other than Norway in the waters that would be covered by a potential Bastion Defense move by its Northern Fleet. That includes the northernmost part of the Norwegian Sea and the Barents Sea region.

At the same time, Russia has gone out of its way to maintain stable relations with Norway by agreeing long disputed maritime boundaries. In 2010, the boundaries of the exclusive economic maritime zones of the two countries were finally agreed. It is mildly amusing that after forty years of failed negotiations the two countries simply decided to split the disputed area in two.

The agreement reflected growing interest in energy and fishing resources in the area and President Putin’s policy of settling Russian frontier disputes generally.  In 2004 Russia and China settled long running frontier disputes that had in the past erupted into open warfare in the time of the Soviet Union.

It is not surprising that Germany did not take part in the Barents Sea exercise, as work on finishing the vital Nord stream 2-gas pipeline gets underway in close cooperation with the Russians.

However, the absence of France, which has sent warships into the Black Sea in the past, is a reflection of President Macron’s desire to mend fences with Moscow.

Another significant absentee was Denmark.  The Secretary-General of NATO is a former Danish Prime Minster. They have outstanding negotiations with Russia concerning Greenland’s maritime exclusive economic zone. They too have stayed away from an exercise that inevitably will antagonize Russia, particularly that it was through the Barents Sea that Britain and the United States invaded Russia in 1918 and 1919 at the end of the First World War.

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