Putin orders missile tests in NATO training area as 50,000 Western troops carry out exercises in Norway

Chris Pleasance for Mail Online and AFP — Oct 30, 2018

NATO armoured vehicles prepare to board military transport aircraft. Click to enlarge

NATO armoured vehicles prepare to board military transport aircraft. Trident Juncture, which will be NATO’s biggest drill in decades, will at points be conducted near Noway’s border with Russia. Click to enlarge

Russia has announced it will carry out missiles tests off the coast of Norway while NATO stages its largest war games since the Cold War close by.

Putin’s warships will test-fire some of Russia’s latest hardware in international waters near the Norwegian cities of Kristiansund, Molde, and Alesund from November 1 until November 3, the country’s military said.

The timing coincides with NATO troop manoeuvres near the city of Alesund as part of the Trident Juncture war games, which are scheduled in the same time period.

NATO commanders were informed of the move via NOTAM, a system for pilots which warns of potential hazards along route, last week.

While the military alliance sought to downplay Russia’s tests, a Polish adviser called it a deliberate provocation by Putin.

Jędrzej Tomczak, deputy political adviser to the Polish NATO delegation, put out a tweet saying: ‘Russia has a right to [carry out the tests]. But make no mistake. This clearly shows its attitude & intentions.’

The NATO exercise was ‘defensive’ in nature, commanders ‘notified [Russia] well in advance’ and was ‘fully transparent, with Russian observers’, he said.

Meanwhile, Russia’s missile tests represent a ‘deliberate escalation’ and a ‘risk increase.’

However, Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen told Radio Free Europe Radio Liberty: ‘There is nothing dramatic about this.

‘We have noted it and will follow the Russian manoeuvres.’

Stoltenberg added ‘this is not a Cold War situation,’ stressing the NATO exercise is meant is ‘purely to prevent, not to provoke.’

Russia has been briefed by NATO on the exercises and invited to monitor them, but the move has still angered the Russians.

The maneuvers come amid persistent tensions between NATO and Russia, and Moscow believes the alliance is behaving provocatively near its borders.

‘This is a necessary exercise’ to ‘send a strong signal of unity,’ Stoltenberg told reporters as he visited the NATO maneuvers that involve around 50,000 personnel from all 29 NATO allies, plus partners Finland and Sweden.

There also are 65 ships, 250 aircraft and 10,000 vehicles in a hypothetical scenario that involves restoring Norway’s sovereignty after an attack by a ‘fictitious aggressor.’

‘We are exercising in NATO territory,’ Stoltenberg said.

Tensions in the region have grown between Baltic NATO members and Moscow, including reports of airspace violations by Russian military aircraft.

Non-aligned Sweden and Finland have watched with increasing trepidation, stepping up their own military activity with cross-border exercises and drills with NATO countries.

The standoff in Norway is the latest point of friction between Russia and NATO since the 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea plunged relations into the deep freeze.

NATO’s war games come after Russia staged its two largest games in recent years – Zapad 2017 and Vostok 2018 – in Belarus and Siberia.

The Zapad games were particularly troubling for NATO commanders, who said it clearly represented a staged invasion of Europe.

Elsewhere on Tuesday Russia’s only aircraft carrier – the diesel-powered Admiral Kuznetsov – was badly damaged after a floating dock meant to help repair it sank while the ship was positioned on it.

The dock was located in the Kola Bay near Murmansk close to where Russia’s Northern Fleet is based, with Kuznetsov due to go back into service in 2021.

Maria Kovtun, Murmansk’s governor, said in a statement that a rescue operation had been launched and 71 people evacuated after the floating dock holding the ship had begun to sink.

The warship had been successfully extracted from the dock before it completely sank, she said.

Investigators, who said they had opened a criminal investigation into the incident that would look at whether safety rules had been violated,