Apr 5, 2015

Norway Reverts to Cold War Mode as Russian Air Patrols Spike

From his command post burrowed deep into a mountain of quartz and slate north of the Arctic Circle, the 54-year-old commander of the Norwegian military’s operations headquarters watches time flowing backward, pushed into reverse by surging Russian military activity redolent of East-West sparring during the Cold War.
“It is more or less the same as when I started,” said General Lunde, who began his career tracking Soviet warplanes as a Norwegian Air Force navigator in the early 1980s.
After a long hiatus following the December 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, when Moscow grounded its strategic bombers for lack of fuel, spare parts and will to project power, President Vladimir V. Putin’s newly assertive Russia “is back to normal behavior,” General Lunde said.
Last year, Norway intercepted 74 Russian warplanes off its coast, 27 percent more than in 2013, scrambling F-16 fighters from a military air base in Bodo to monitor and photograph them. This is far fewer than the hundreds of Soviet planes Norway tracked off its coast at the height of the Cold War. However, last year’s total was a drastic increase from the 11 Russian warplanes Norway spotted 10 years earlier.
“Russia has created uncertainty about its intentions, so there is, of course, unpredictability,” Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, said in an interview in Oslo, adding that the military was being restructured to deal better with new risks, particularly in the Arctic.
Nobody expects Russia to invade. So far, its warplanes have taken care not to stray into Norwegian airspace, unlike in the Baltics, where they regularly violate borders.
But the spike in Russian military activity along Norway’s coast has added an unexpected measure of verisimilitude to a new television thriller called “Occupied,” which, based on an idea by Norway’s pre-eminent crime writer, Jo Nesbo, explores how the country would respond to conquest by Russia. The multipart series is scheduled to air in September. When Mr. Nesbo first proposed the idea years ago, he was told it was much too far-fetched.
Russian air activity along the borders of NATO, the northern parts of which are patrolled by fighters based in Bodo, increased 50 percent from 2013 to last year, according to the alliance. At the same time, Russia sharply increased so-called snap military exercises, training maneuvers that, in violation of established procedure, were either announced at the last minute or kept secret.

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