The Marine Corps Times on Tuesday reported the details of the run-up to what's being described as NATO's largest ever military games in a decade, called Trident Juncture, set to take place right up along Russia's border with Europe.
Currently, the US Marine Corps is engaged in preparatory maneuvers with Swedish counterparts in a training exercise that involves mock raids and amphibious operations up and down Sweden's coastal island archipelagos.
Some 75 US Marines are said to be involved in the training which involves navigating an area of thousands of small islands known as the Stockholm Archipelago and which extend nearly 40 miles to the east into the Baltic Sea.
Russia is interpreting the exercises as a deeply provocative military action that signals NATO could be planning to use Scandinavian countries as a launch point for a potential future conflict.
The Marines are considered America's most advanced forward deployed force "as the President may direct" according to their founding purpose and codified under the National Security Act of 1947. For this reason they are considered a "force projection" and "first to be deployed" unit in any major conflict.
Though Trident Juncture, which will involve nearly 40,000 NATO troops, is not set to start until later this Fall, the Marine exercise, called Archipelago Endeavor, is part of a broader and semi-permanent build-up of American Marine forces in Scandinavia which was first reported months ago.
It was revealed in early June that the Norwegian government, which is hosting the NATO games, intends to add 400 U.S. Marines to Norway before the most significant military exercise since the Cold War, according to the country’s Ministry of Defense. By the time the Trident Juncture games begin, about 700 Marines in total are expected to be present in the Scandinavian region, and will reportedly be based in Norway for a period of five years.
Predictably, Russia has responded by pointing to the "anti-Russia" nature of the impending NATO exercises.
During a briefing last week, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, “The troops and equipment of the alliance members and individual partner countries will be used on land, at sea and in the air to improve the skills of defensive and, crucially, offensive operations in the northern latitudes in case of a ‘high intensity’ conflict with a ‘comparable enemy.’” She added, “This demonstration of military potential will unfold in the immediate proximity to Russian borders and has a clear anti-Russian nature.”
Notably, even though Sweden is a "nonaligned country" it's increasingly upped its willing participation and closeness with NATO through periphery drills such as the currently ongoing Archipelago Endeavor exercise. Two years ago Russian President Putin formally announced for the first time that Russia would increase its own troop presence along its border with Finland should Moscow sense increased NATO aggression in the region.
And last May non-NATO members Finland and Sweden formalized their intent to form a closer security relationship with the United States by signing a joint letter representing a non-binding pledge to partner in NATO military exercises.
According to the Marine Corps Times report, the US forces are also testing newly accessed weapons as part of the amphibious training drills:
The exercise also allows Marines to get their hands on Sweden’s Carl Gustaf recoilless rifle. The Corps plans to equip its grunts in the coming year with the Gustaf as it phases out the Mk 153 Shoulder-Launched Multipurpose Assault Weapon, also known as the SMAW or SMAW MoD 2.
The three-week training event is scheduled to last to September 8.
As NATO’s chess pieces continue being positioned in Sweden and Norway and other regions around the Baltic in the largest military exercise since the Cold War this fall, how will Russia respond?