OSLO, Norway (PNN) - October 31, 2018 - As 50,000 NATO troops mass in Scandinavia for the military alliance's annual "Trident Juncture" military exercises, an annual affair that has been expanded to become the largest NATO exercise since the end of the Cold War in reflection of the deepening hostilities with Russia, it appears Russia President Vladimir Putin has decided to flex some military muscle of his own.
The Russian Navy has alerted NATO that it is planning to test missiles in international waters off Norway's coast this week. While the missiles Russia will be testing aren’t of the hypersonic variety that Russia is planning to introduce in the coming years, NATO commanders will undoubtedly seize on Russia's decision to help justify even more aggressive displays of military force in the future.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tried to play down the missile tests as part of routine activity by the Russian military.
"Russia has a sizable presence in the north, also off Norway," Stoltenberg said. "Large [Russian] forces take part in maneuvers and they practice regularly."
Russian officials did not immediately comment on the planned missile tests, which come amid persistent tension between NATO and Russia.
A spokesman for Avinor, the organization that operates Norwegian airports and air navigation services, said that Russia had informed them about the tests in a NOTAM (a type of "routine message" to pilots about potential hazards along a flight route). The tests are set to take place between Nov. 1 and Nov. 3, west of the coastal cities of Kristiansund, Molde, and Alesund.
Norway also tried to play down the significance of the Russian missile tests.
"There is nothing dramatic about this. We have noted it and will follow the Russian maneuvers," Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said.
The Trident Juncture exercises began Oct. 25, and are expected to run through Nov. 7. They will involve around 50,000 soldiers, 10,000 vehicles, and more than 300 aircraft and ships from all 29 NATO allies, as well as "non-aligned" Finland and Sweden. The exercises will stretch from the North Atlantic to the Baltic Sea to test the alliance's ability to respond to an attack on the Baltics.
The exercises follow by more than a year the Zapad exercises, a similarly unprecedented display of force by the Russian federation. Those exercises involved more than 100,000 ground troops as well as tanks, aircraft and artillery, while also featuring a test launch of a nuclear ballistic missile; and just last month, Russia and China unnerved members of NATO by holding their joint "Vostok" war games.