Norwegian-Russian Preparedness Exercise in the Barents Sea Cancelled

The Norwegian coast guard vessel KV Jarl and the Russian tug boat Nikolay Chikher during the Barents Exercise 2021. (Photo: Onar Digernes Aase/Norwegian Armed Forces)

This summer’s Barents Exercise, conducted annually for more than 20 years, has been cancelled. However, operative cooperation between Norway and Russia about search and rescue works as normal, according to Joint Rescue Coordination Center North, Norway.

For more than 20 years, Norwegian and Russian preparedness actors have practiced search and rescue (SAR) as well as oil spill protection preparedness (OSR) together in the Barents Sea.

This year, however, there will be no Barents Exercise, says Tore Wangsfjord, acting Head of Division at the Join Rescue Coordination Center North in Norway.

Tore Wangsfjord, fungerende avdelingsdirektør ved Hovedredningssentralen Nord-Norge. (Foto: Privat)
Tore Wangsfjord, acting Head of Division at the JRCC North. (Photo: Private)

“Cancelling the exercise was a Norwegian political decision. Only the operative cooperation about search and rescue has been exempt from the sanctions against Russia, and the interaction between the JRCC North and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Murmansk runs as normal”, Wangsfjord says to High North News.

“As we have conducted this exercise annually for so many years and the actors know each other well, I do not believe this cancellation will have much effect in a short-term perspective. However, if it grows into a long-term pause in joint exercise activity, the issue of how it will affect the operative cooperation will arise”, he adds.

There have been no incidents about which the rescue centers have had to cooperate in April and May, according to Wangsfjord.

Considered valuable

The Barents Exercise was last conducted in 2021, following a break the year before due to the Corona pandemic.

“Both the Russian Federation and Norway believe that conducting this type of exercises is extremely valuable to enhance the preparedness of SAR and OSR assets and the collaborative dynamics between the two countries in furtherance of being able to offer the best possible help to save lives and to combat pollution in the Barents Sea”, says a bilateral report about the 2021 exercise.

In that same year, the significance of joint training in light of increased shipping in the Arctic was also pointed out.

The exercise activity is based on two Norwegian-Russian cooperation agreements about search and rescue, and fighting oil spill pollution in the Barents Sea, respectively. These were signed in the mid-1990’s, partly as a prolongation of former Norwegian-Soviet cooperation.

Civilian-military interaction

The overall goal of the Barents Exercise is to strengthen coordination of maritime preparedness operations in the region between relevant resources in both countries.

The sea rescue part of the exercise has been coordinated by the JRCC North and the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre in Murmansk, while the oil spill pollution part has been subject to interaction between the Norwegian Coastal Administration (NCA) and the Marine Rescue Service in Russia. 

A series of civilian as well as military actors from both countries have participated in previous exercise activities.

On the Russian side, this has included participation from the North Fleet, the Coast Guard, federal SAR institutions in aviation, as well as air traffic control in Murmansk.

On the Norwegian side, the exercise has involved the Coast Radio, the Coast Guard, the 330 and 333 squadrons (rescue helicopters), Avinor, the Joint Operations Headquarters, the Air Traffic Control Services, as well as the Norwegian Society for Rescue at Sea, a private NGO.

Also read

This article was originally published in Norwegian and has been translated by HNN's Elisabeth Bergquist.