Setermoen (Norway) (AFP), March 24 – In a muddy parking lot in Norway’s Far North, Finnish troops show off their military might, lining up rocket launchers, artillery and snowmobiles as they prepare to train alongside their brethren in arms. NATO.
While Finland and Sweden’s partnership with the Atlantic Alliance is not new, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted the two militarily non-aligned nations to further deepen their cooperation with NATO.
Norway’s Cold Response exercise, normally held every two years, aims to train NATO troops to cooperate in harsh winter conditions.
As on previous occasions, Norway organized the exercise, Stockholm and Helsinki sent large contingents: 1,600 Swedish soldiers and 680 Finns.
“It’s even more important this year because of Ukraine and the situation in our part of the world,” Lt. Col. Stefan Hedmark, head of Swedish military exercise planning, told AFP.
The Nordic countries, whether members of NATO or not, are used to cooperating closely. They share the same values, interests and cultures – and the same neighbor to the east, Russia.
“We’re more or less like family now,” Hedmark said.
“You don’t always agree but you have a connection and…you have to take care of each other.”
“It’s the family nucleus,” confirms Finnish general Manu Tuominen.
“But of course there are distant family members in every family, and we welcome all European friends and even transatlantic cooperation in this regard,” he said.
For Sweden and Finland, participating in Cold Response is not about learning how to fight in difficult conditions, which are the same here as in Norway.
Instead, their participation is aimed at enhancing their “interoperability,” or their ability to wage war with other Western nations.
– ‘A strong signal’ –
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed public opinion in both Nordic countries.
For the first time, a majority of Swedes and Finns have come out in favor of joining NATO, according to opinion polls published since the end of February.
Military officers from both nations decline to comment publicly on the politically sensitive issue, but insist that if and when the time comes for NATO membership, they will be ready.
Stockholm and Helsinki have both ruled out membership for the time being, although the issue has been the subject of extensive political discussion in Finland.
If the Nordic countries joined NATO, it would have “serious military and political repercussions”, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned in late February.
“This is a long-planned exercise,” insisted Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson during her visit to her country’s troops on Monday.
“But it is clear that with the security situation that we currently have, we are sending an important signal that there is cooperation and preparation to defend our territory,” she said.
A tangible sign of their close ties, the Finnish, Swedish and Norwegian troops will soon wear the same uniform adapted to arctic conditions, but with different camouflage patterns.
“I can assure you that on a daily basis…we already have close cooperation and participation in this exercise is a strong signal,” said General Jorg Vollmer, who commands NATO’s northern flank.
“We already train together, even though they miss being members,” he said.
“We can’t wait (to see) how this decision will be made.”