This week some 60 officers gathered at the Porsanger garrison in Western Finnmark to plan the exercise Joint Viking, which starts on March 9 next year. 5000 soldiers from all branches of Norway’s Armed Forces will take part in the drills that will be held between Alta and Lakselv in Western Finnmark, the bordering county to Russia.
The choice of Finnmark as location for the exercise is a coincidence and has nothing to do with Norway’s relations to Russia, says Lars Petter Kolle from the Norwegian Joint Headquarters to NRK. “We want to show presence in the whole of Norway. We were in Hordaland last autumn and now it is Western Finnmark’s turn.”
The idea behind the exercise is to train in reaching Finnmark quickly and to have units from Air Force, Navy, and ground-based forces to work together in a limited period of time, Kolle says. He believes the biggest challenge with having the exercise in Finnmark will be the large distances and unfamiliar terrain.
It is not clear whether allied forces will take part in the exercise, but there is an opening for this. Russia has not notified if they want to send inspectors to the exercise, but they can if they want, NRK writes.
The exercise will provoke Russia
To conduct a military exercise in Finnmark is a clear sign that one wants to send a political signal to Russia, says Paal S. Hilde, Associate Professor at the Norwegian Institute for Defense Studies to NRK.
“One wants to show the world, and of course our neighbor in the East, that NATO is present and that NATO is both relevant and able to defend Norway if it should become necessary.”
Hilde believes the exercise shows that the carefulness from the Cold War is over and that the exercise will be paid attention to in Russia. “It might be perceived as provocative.”
During the Cold War, Norway declared that no NATO exercises would take part in Finnmark. This was one of several measures Norway took to keep tensions with neighboring Soviet Union on a low level.
There have not been any exercises including NATO-soldiers in Finnmark after the fall of the Soviet Union. But some NATO-countries like Germany and Great Britain use the Porsanger garrison as a training center for winter operations.