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Marines march into Norway, angering Russia

Marines march into Norway, angering Russia

Marines and Norwegian soldiers operate a tank in Setermoen, Norway, during a live-fire exercise that acclimates troops to mountainous regions and extreme cold weather conditions, Nov. 17, 2016. (Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Michelle Reif)

By Tracy Fuga

Tensions are mounting after more than 300 Marines landed in Norway this week, prompting an unsavory reaction from Russia. This marks the second major U.S. deployment near Russian borders this month.

For Norwegians, the sight of hundreds of Marines traipsing through the snow in military fatigues — the first time foreign forces have been posted to their country’s territory since World War II — may have brought a welcomed sense of security, but it also reminded them of the Cold War era that many had hoped to forget.

On Monday, a U.S. military plane delivered most of the 330 Marines, based out of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, to a garrison in central Norway, a deployment that Norwegian officials said had been carried out by the United States as part of a bilateral agreement. It was the latest effort by the United States and its European allies to reinforce their defenses against a resurgent Russia, which condemned the move.

It comes less than a week after 3,000 U.S. troops arrived in Poland and other Baltic nations as part of NATO’s Operation Atlantic Resolve, which is viewed by the Kremlin as a direct threat to Russia’s expanding authority and influence in the region.

The Norway deployment was first announced in October and will focus on training for joint combat operations and arctic warfare, Norwegian Home Guards spokesman Rune Haarstad told Reuters on Monday.

After plans for the deployment were confirmed last October, Frants Klintsevich, a deputy chairman of Russia’s defense and security committee in the upper chamber of Parliament, was quoted by Russian news media as saying that the Kremlin viewed the Marines as a direct military threat. He also said the deployment made Norway a potential target for Moscow’s powerful arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.

“This is very dangerous for Norway and Norwegians,” Klintsevich told reporters. “How should we react to this? We have never before had Norway on the list of targets for our strategic weapons. But if this develops, Norway’s population will suffer because we need to react against definitive military threats. And we have things to react to, I might as well tell it like it is.”

On Monday, the Russian authorities reiterated their discontent. Russian diplomats lashed out at the U.S. troop presence, demanding leaders in Norway explain the military benefits of the American presence in the country, other than to antagonize Moscow.

Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, said in an interview with NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster, that the move “certainly will not improve relations.”

“The relationship between Norway and Russia is put to a test now,” she said. “Instead of developing economic cooperation, Norway is choosing to deploy United States troops on Norwegian soil.”

Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Søreide, has rejected Russia’s criticisms and said the deployment at Værnes — about 700 miles from the Russian border — is only a test run that will be reconsidered next year.

She said: “There is no objective reason for the Russians to react to this. But the Russians are reacting at the moment in the same way toward almost everything the NATO countries are doing.”

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