NATO’s ‘Northern Flank’ Vulnerable to Russia

Source: U.S. News

Officials in Finland, Sweden and Norway are concerned about what have become almost routine acts of Russian aggression, how they can respond, and whether they could prevent an incident, or even an accident, from spiraling out of control. So now, quietly, they’re preparing for a confrontation.

“This is where the accident – God forbid – would more likely occur,” Air Force Secretary Deborah James says of the Baltic region, an area of critical importance to NATO and where it abuts Russia. Commonly called the alliance’s “northern flank,” the three Nordic countries beget military activity frequently due to their geography, instilling in them the need for greater cooperation with the West both to train their forces and to determine how they could synchronize their activities in the event of an actual conflict.

The Baltic area has been at the center of recent incidents that observers worry only contribute to a greater divide between Moscow and NATO. Norway confirmed last month it would allow a rotation of more than 300 U.S. Marines to be based on its territory for training and exercises, a move Russia’s state news service blasted as sending “negative signals eastward,” citing Norwegian critics of the deal. Weeks after deploying a nuclear-capable missile shield to its outpost province of Kaliningrad, Russia reportedly bolstered its Baltic Fleet, which the Polish defense minister called “an obvious cause for concern.” And Russia already had deployed a flotilla of warships through the English channel en route to support operations in the Mediterranean, causing Britain to deploy its own navy to shadow the ships and which an official in Sweden called “worrying.”

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Norwegian soldiers, U.S. Marines, Dutch and U.K. Royal Commandos do an integrated air insert during a training event for Exercise Cold Response 16, March 3, 2016, around the city of Namsos, Norway.