LONDON (AP) — Britain’s defense secretary says the UK plans to boost its military presence in the Arctic next year amid concerns about increasing Russian aggression.
Gavin Williamson told The Sunday Telegraph that the government is preparing a “defense Arctic strategy” that would deploy 800 army and marine commandos to Norway in 2019 and establish a new military base there.
The personnel will be deployed to Norway every winter for the next decade, operating alongside US and Dutch marines as well as Norwegian troops, according to the newspaper.
A contingent of US Marines arrived Norway in 2017 to train for fighting in winter conditions. They are the first foreign troops stationed in Norway since World War II.
They were scheduled to leave at the end of this year, but instead the US will double their numbers from 330 to 700 and move their base closer to the Russian border. Oslo insists the increased US presence is only for training purposes and should not be interpreted as a military escalation.
The newspaper says Britain’s actions are prompted partly by anticipation that Russia will keep expanding its presence in the Arctic and of a rush for the region’s oil as polar ice melts due to climate change.
Williamson pointed to Russia’s re-opening of Soviet-era bases and an “increased tempo” of submarine activity as evidence the UK needed to “demonstrate we’re there” and “protect our interests.”
Williamson said: “We see Russian submarine activity very close to the level that it was at the Cold War, and it’s right that we start responding to that.”
Williamson is one of many Western officials who have warned about increased Russian submarine activity. While that activity does appear more intense, it is still well short of levels seen during the Cold War.
In a speech earlier this year, the defense secretary said Russian sub activity had “increased tenfold in the North Atlantic” and that while a British navy ship was called on just once in 2010 to respond to a Russian navy ship approaching UK waters, in 2017 British ships responded 33 times.
That “goes to show the increasing aggression, increasing assertiveness of Russia,” Williamson said at the time.