Around 30,000 soldiers from 27 NATO and associated countries began routine NATO manoeuvres in Norway on Monday, which coincides with the war between Russia and Ukraine.
Norwegian-led exercise Cold Response, which will last until the beginning of April, will take place in southeastern, central and northern Norway and aim to strengthen the defensive capacity of this Alliance member country in demanding cold weather conditions.
The composition of the forces includes 14000 personnel land forces, 8000 personnel each from the navy and Airforce.
Around 220 aircraft and over 50 vessels will be in play during the exercise.
Russia declines observer invitation
Addressing the possibility of hostilities with Russia over the exercises in view of the Ukraine war, Norway says it follows the provisions of The Vienna document by informing about large exercises that are carried out in Norway.
The Vienna Document is an agreement between the countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The deal ensures military stability and reduces war danger by ordering the governments to implement security and trust-building measures.
Norway has invited observers from all 57 OSCE member states, including Russia. But Russia has decided not to participate.
“It is a pity that they do not want to participate as an observer, but we respect their rejection of the invitation – at the same time, we want to be transparent in connection with Cold Response to avoid any misunderstandings. The reason for the refusal is not up to me to reproduce,” said Norwegian Armed Forces spokesman Preben Aursand.
The U.S. reduces its troops, Australia withdraws
Initially, 35,000 soldiers from 28 NATO countries and other partner nations were supposed to participate in the drills.
Aursand said that the U.S. made the largest force contribution of the participating foreign nations during the exercises. This year, the U.S. has reduced its involvement in the exercise. Aursand said he does not want to detail which countries have fewer soldiers.
Aursand also said that Australia has withdrawn from Cold Response but should have one representative in one department.
Russia amasses troops on the Norweigian border
Since March, Russia began increasing its force levels on the Norwegian border to protect its nuclear weapons. A week before, the Dutch Minister of Defense, Odd Roger Enoksen, said these are defensive measures on the part of Russia. “We do not see an explicit military threat to NATO or Norwegian territory now,” he said.
Aursand pointed out that the Russian military activity and presence is somewhat higher and “dynamic”. He nevertheless emphasizes that there is no change in the threat situation against Norway. “There is normal activity in our immediate areas. Russia will probably want to follow the exercise – just as we do when they hold exercises,” he said.
Lviv attack confirms that weapons should not be sold to Ukraine, says Hungary
On Monday, Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó said that the recent Russian attack on a military installation near Lviv in western Ukraine shows how right the Hungarian decision was to ban arms crossing to Ukraine.
“The attacks highlight the importance of the decision not to allow lethal weapons to be carried through the country (Hungary) into Ukraine,” a decision that the government will uphold, the minister said in a video posted on Facebook.
On 13th March, Ukraine reported that 35 people were killed and 134 injured in a Russian airstrike on the Yavoriv military training ground, 25 kilometres from the border with Poland. As per Lviv regional administration, the Russian army fired 30 missiles. Some of them were shot down by air defense systems. As per the administration, Russian planes took off from Saratov to the Black Sea, and from there, the missiles were fired. After the attack, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov called on NATO to immediately close the skies over his country.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said that the Russian military on Sunday launched a strike with long-range precision weapons at two military facilities of Ukraine in the Lviv region – training centres in the village of Starichi and at the Yavorivsky military training ground. The ministry said that “up to 180 foreign mercenaries were killed” at military facilities in the Lviv region.
NATO’s reluctance to hand over the arms
NATO is ready to provide Ukraine with arms and ammunition, but no NATO country is ready to hand it over to the Ukrainians. Russia has said that any country handing over arms to Ukraine will be considered an act of hostility.