Thursday, April 02, 2015

Norway Reverts to Cold War Mode as Russian Air Patrols Spike

The entrance tunnel to a bunker in Bodo, built during the Cold War and modeled after American installations, that now houses the Norwegian military command. Credit Bryan Denton for The New York Times.
By ANDREW HIGGINS, NYT
APRIL 1, 2015

BODO, Norway — 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.

“I am what you could call a seasoned Cold Warrior,” the commander, Lt. Gen. Morten Haga Lunde, said, speaking in an underground complex built to withstand a nuclear blast. As a result, he added, he is not too alarmed by increased Russian military activity along NATO’s northern flank.

“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.

In Norway, a country that takes pride in championing peace — witnessed in its brokering of pacts between Israelis and Palestinians and its awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize — what General Lunde called the “new old normal” has come as a jolt. It has set off debate over military spending and highlighted how quickly Mr. Putin has shredded the certainties of the post-Cold War era.

(More here.)

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