NATO started scheduled military drills this week in Norway, involving 30,000 troops, 220 aircraft, and 50 warships, according to a statement from the military alliance on Tuesday.
While no mention of the Russia–Ukraine conflict was made, the drills involve “tens of thousands of troops from across Europe and North America [who] are training together in harsh climatic conditions as part of Norwegian exercise Cold Response 2022,” according to the alliance.
Non-NATO states Sweden and Finland, a nation that shares a large border with Russia, partook in the drills, the statement said.
“Around 30,000 troops from 27 nations, including NATO’s close partners Finland and Sweden, are taking part in the exercise, as well as about 220 aircraft and more than 50 vessels,” NATO also wrote.
Cold Response 2022 was planned long before Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24, and it aims to show how Norway would manage reinforcements. The naval, air, and ground drills are held every two years over large areas across Norway, including above the Arctic Circle.
“It’s a defensive exercise,” said General Yngve Odlo, the official in charge of Cold Response, on Monday. “It’s not a military operation with an offensive purpose,” he added, according to Norwegian broadcaster TV2.
NATO said that it offered an invitation to Russia to observe the drills, but Moscow declined to attend.
“Any build-up of NATO military capabilities near Russia’s borders does not help to strengthen security in the region,” Russia’s embassy in Norway told AFP last week about the exercises.
But Russia “has the capacity out there to follow (the exercise) in an entirely legitimate manner,” Odlo told TV2. “I really hope they respect existing agreements,” he added.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cited NATO’s expansion east in recent years for why he decided to invade Ukraine last month, describing the development as a threat to Russian sovereignty.
Following the start of the Ukraine–Russia conflict, polls have shown that an increasing number of citizens of Finland and Sweden—who are members of the European Union and considered NATO partners—are considering joining NATO. But earlier in March, Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson issued a statement saying that a near-term bid to join NATO isn’t planned, describing it as a move that would escalate tensions in Europe.
Over the past weekend, Sergei Belyaev, the head of the Second European Department of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, told news agency Interfax that Sweden and Finland could face consequences for joining the alliance.
The two nations’ non-participation in NATO is “an important factor in ensuring security and stability in northern Europe,” he said.