NATO prepares for threat from Russia in harsh Arctic climate

A young Finnish soldier, Atte Ohman, prepares to land on a snowy Norwegian beach as part of NATO exercises in the Arctic.

“There’s a saying that says: If you want peace, prepare for war,” the 19-year-old tells AFP. “It’s exactly what we do,” he adds, taking up his machine gun.

The exercise in the Arctic is part of NATO’s Steadfast military exercise, the US-led alliance’s most significant exercise since the end of the Cold War.

For weeks, the exercises involved approximately 90,000 men and women and dozens of ships, armored vehicles and fighter aircraft.

While Italian paratroopers land on the beach from helicopters, Swedish landing barges converge on the scene and French alpine troops on skis stand by.

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The message is clear: Two years after Moscow invaded Ukraine, NATO is ready to defend itself against an increasingly aggressive Russia.

Since then, the alliance has been strengthened by the entry of Finland and Sweden, which became its 32nd member on Thursday.

“We show that we are ready to defend our territories and it is very important to work together to strengthen our capabilities,” Swedish Defense Minister Pål Jonsson explained from a point on the border between Norway and Finland.

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“For now, Russian forces are stuck in Ukraine, but Russia has spoken about its big ambitions to reorganize and optimize its forces,” he said.

The possibility of Russia attacking a NATO member should not be ruled out. As Moscow puts its economy into war mode, Western powers are facing increasing difficulties in providing Kiev with the arms and ammunition it demands.

The head of Norway’s armed forces, Erik Christophersen, says the number of Russian troops deployed near his country’s border is less than a fifth of what it was before the invasion of Ukraine.

“But on the maritime and air front, as well as from the nuclear forces perspective, they have retained all their forces in the region,” he says.

The Arctic region is now at the center of competition between Russia and NATO. Since President Vladimir Putin came to power in 2000, the Russian military has continued to increase its presence in the region.

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Both Finland and Sweden are trying to pressure their new allies to step up competition with Moscow in that key area.

The Arctic is becoming a strategic region and that is why “Russia is investing a lot here, and China is also monitoring the region,” explains Antti Hakkanen, Finland’s Defense Minister.

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According to Rear Admiral David Patchell, deputy commander of the US Second Fleet, climate change will open up access to vital resources in the region worth, according to a conservative estimate, about $1 trillion.

And also, melting ice will mean that the Arctic will become navigable and connect the entire planet’s oceans. “We must learn to work in the Arctic,” he told AFP.

U.S. Marine Corporal Joshua Maddox said, “Working in those conditions is a big shock. We rarely see that kind of snow every day.”

“The biggest challenge is psychological, you just have to be very well prepared,” he said.

His colleague in the Marines, Sergeant Joshua Perezchoa, said that “if Putin decides to go further” and “do worse things than what he’s already doing,” he would “do my part, to help other countries.” Will be there to help. “This is our mission,” he said.


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