Chief of Defence to HNN: Russian Military Activity is Unusually Low in the High North

Forsvarssjef Eirik Kristoffersen
Norway's Chief of Defence Eirik Kristoffersen discussed geopolitics in the High North with scientists and politicians during the Arendal week. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye).

Russia has relocated large ground forces from the High North to Ukraine. Norway's Chief of Defence, Eirik Kristoffersen, says this indicates that the neighboring country sees the High North as stable, and that there are no major threats here.

Russia has currently few ground forces left on the Kola Peninsula. Large forces have been relocated, both from the borders of Finland and from Kola, south towards Ukraine.

Despite Russia keeping its nuclear weapons in the North, the relocation of forces southwards suggests that Russia sees the situation in the High North as stable.

This is underscored by Norway's Chief of Defence, Eirik Kristoffersen, to High North News.

Almost six months has passed since Norway's northern neighbour invaded Ukraine. The war's security policy implications for the High North were the subject of debate during the "Arendal Week" on Tuesday, where HNN met the Chief of Defence for an interview.

NATO is no threat

"My interpretation is that Russia believes that the area is stable and that they do not need any more ground forces here now - precisely because there is no threat to the country. At the same time, they know that the deterrence [which lies in the nuclear weapon arsenal, journ. note] is working.

"That is Putin's great lie; that NATO is a threat to Russia. At the same time, they know that NATO has no intention of attacking Russia. That allows them to move such large forces to Ukraine", he clarifies.

Dag Rune Olsen, Andreas Østhagen, Eirik Kristoffersen og Anniken Huitfeldt
From the left: rector at UiT, Dag Rune Olsen; Senior research fellow at The Fridtjof Nansen Institute, Andreas Østhagen; Chief of Defence, Eirik Kristoffersen; and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Anniken Huitfeldt, were among those who were gathered around a bonfire in the lavvo during the Arendal week. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye)

Continued contact

What does the Russian military activity in the North look like right now? Do the Norwegian Armed Forces see anything unusual?

"Yes, the activity is unusually low," Kristoffersen points out.

He also points out that Russia has retained some maritime activity. The Norwegian Armed Forces observe Russian ships along the coast.

"Their Air Forces have the capacity to intercept and conduct air patrols. But they do it to a lesser extent than what has been normal in recent years," he continues. 

During the debate, Kristoffersen said that Norway has maintained military contact with Russia. This is, among other things, important for Norwegian security and it is about avoiding misunderstandings in the event of unwanted incidents, like a maritime surveillance aircraft being intercepted at a dangerously close range by a Russian fighter jet.

"We ended military cooperation with Russia after 2014, but we have retained a system for dialogue, also after the invasion of Ukraine. We have the same protocol meetings and we keep the line open between the Norwegian Joint Headquarters and The Northern Fleet. In addition, we have held meetings on the border which dealt with border control, as well as search and rescue. This is done professionally and according to protocol," he says.

The Chief of Defence has previously stated that Norway's knowledge of Russia is valued in NATO.

"The fact that we have a clear policy for where to practice and where not to practice is understood. Of course, a small nation cannot always pull above its weight, though on a general basis it is my experience that Norway is well respected within the alliance," Kristoffersen has previously stated.

Seniorforsker Svein Vigeland Rottem og Høyre-politiker Ine Eriksen Søreide
From the left: Moderator and Senior research fellow Svein Vigeland Rottem at The Fridtjof Nansen Institute and Conservative Party politician and leader of the Standing Committe on Foreign Affairs and Defence, Ine Eriksen Søreide. (Photo: Hilde-Gunn Bye).

Nordic Response exercise

During the debate in the lavvo, Kristoffersen referred to Swedish and Finnish NATO memberships as perhaps the greatest thing that has happened for Norwegian security since Norway itself became a member of the Alliance. The military strategy and policy will be able to correspond to the geography in the North for the first time.

As High North News recently reported, the Chiefs of Defence in Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark discussed a new format for the military exercise Cold Response when they met last week.

"We think it can be named 'Nordic Response,'" says Kristoffersen. According to the General, a large, joint exercise can become a reality already in 2024.

"Norway has a long tradition of organizing large-scale events and of bringing many allies to Norway.  It would be easy to expand the exercise to include Sweden and Finland. That way, we could have large-scale exercises throughout the Nordic region. Coordinating exercises where we practice the most difficult scenarios together, will create security for everyone. That is why I have talked to the Finnish and Swedish Chiefs of Defence about naming the exercise 'Nordic Response'. We will come to a decision on that," he explains to HNN.

"Possibilities opening up"

"There are only possibilities opening up here. That is what I hear from the other Chiefs of Defence as well. We are looking at all opportunities to strengthen the security in the North together. That includes, among other things, practicing in each others countries on a regular basis without any bureaucracy. We are looking at using air bases and logistics across national borders, like the railway from Gothenburg to Narvik. We are also considering how we can do more together when it comes to preparedness," the Chief of Defence adds. 

Will Norway's role as NATO in the High North change?

"Yes, we will no longer be NATO in the North alone. Norway, Sweden and Finland will be NATO in our North. However, I see only positive outcomes of this. I also believe it is expected that we coordinate our defence efforts well."