Norway, Sweden and Finland host NATO military exercises

NATO exercises in Norway are regular, these ones being planned long before Russia's offensive began on February 24. On this March 17, 2022 picture, soldiers take part in Exercise Brilliant Jump 2022, the annual deployment exercise for the NATO Response Force's Very High Readiness Brigade, in Rena, Norway. © Geir Olsen/NTB, via REUTERS

The first-of-its-kind training exercise involving more than 20,000 soldiers from 13 countries has launched across northern Norway, Sweden and Finland as the region prepares to become a fully Nato territory within days.

The joint defence exercise, which runs until 14 March, was previously known as Cold Response and held in northern Norway, a founding Nato member, every other year. In recognition of Finland’s recent membership of the western military alliance, and with Sweden expected to join imminently, this year it is being designated Nordic Response for the first time.

The training exercise across air, land and sea – which will also include soldiers from the UK, US, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium and Canada – will incorporate a cross-border operations exercise in the Arctic circle.

The Norwegian military said the exercise was intended to demonstrate “a unique level of cooperation and interoperability as they cross borders on land, sea and air”.

Nordic Response is part of an ongoing series of Nato exercises, Steadfast Defender, involving 90,000 soldiers. It is also closely aligned with the UK-led naval exercise Joint Warrior, which ran between Scotland, Norway and Iceland last week.

The latest exercise, which started on Sunday, will involve more than 50 submarines, frigates, corvettes, aircraft carriers and amphibious vessels at sea, over 100 combat, maritime surveillance and transport aircraft, and thousands of soldiers on the ground using artillery systems, tanks and tracked vehicles.

Most of the activity will be centred on northern Troms county and the west of Finnmark county in Norway, but there will also be maritime activity along the coast of the north of the country and exercises across borders in northern Finland and Sweden.

The newly elected Finnish president, Alexander Stubb, the Norwegian prime minister, Jonas Gahr Støre, and the Swedish crown princess Victoria are all scheduled to visit.

The Swedish government is anxiously awaiting the final sign-off from Hungary to finally complete its Nato membership. It had been hoped the process could have been finished off last week, but having only been signed by the speaker of Hungary’s parliament on Sunday it still needs to be signed by the president before the documentation can go to Washington.

Last Monday, Hungary’s parliament approved the historically neutral country’s membership, nearly two years after it submitted its application. Finland became a member in April last year.

The Norwegian military said Nordic Response was aimed at strengthening Nordic cooperation and in turn bolstering the alliance’s ability to defend the region.

All relevant countries, including Russia, had been informed of the exercise, it said.

“With Finland and soon Sweden as allied neighbours, the exercise contributes to closer Nordic integration within the framework of Nato,” the Norwegian military said in a statement. “The exercise also strengthens operational total defence cooperation in the Nordic countries, which results in better cooperation in peace, crisis and conflict. Closer operational cooperation in the Nordic region strengthens Nato’s ability to defend the Nordic region.”

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