Russian inner bastion exercise overlaps into Norwegian economic zone

Starting early morning on August 28, the Northern Fleet will perform rocket firing in waters north of Norway’s Varanger Peninsula. Caution messages to stay clear of a rather huge area in the Barents Sea are issued, both as Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) and Coastal Navigation warnings (PRIP).

“It may affect fisheries, ship and air traffic, and other civilian activities in the westernmost part of Russia’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and the easternmost part of Norway’s EEZ,” says Kristian Åtland with the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI).

He says exercises by the Russian navy like this one are common in late summer, but the size now “is reasonably large.”

The areas for civilian navigation and air traffic are closed “for security reasons,” the Northern Fleet says in a press statement. 

It is the northwestern part of the NOTAM area that overlaps into the Norwegian zone of the Barents Sea all up to above 74° North.

The red-marked areas are NOTAMs for Russia’s northwest and Arctic. Screenshot from NotamMap.net

 

The Northern Fleet has three larger warships and numerous other navy vessels exercising in what seems like an inner bastion defense drill aimed to train preventing foreign ships from entering the Barents Sea.

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“Protecting the traditional patrol areas of the strategic submarines seems to be the primary focus,” says Åtland. 

“Russia wants to be able to close off large parts of the Barents Sea to foreign actors in the event of a crisis or war-like situation. Whether this is a realistic ambition is, of course, another question.”

It is the old destroyer “Admiral Ushakov” and the cruiser “Marshal Ustinov” that are tasked to operate in the Norwegian-Russian maritime border areas. The anti-submarine ship “Vice-Admiral Kulakov” currently sails south of Franz Josef Land as part of the 2023-Arctic expeditionary navy group that later in September is expected to train warfare along the Northern Sea Route.

In addition to artillery firing and rocket launchings, the combat exercise group works in interaction with aviation and coastal troops of the Northern Fleet, according to the press statement.

Although problematic for civilian activities, there are no legal reasons for Norway to protest Russia’s show of force.

“The Law of the Seas gives states access to conduct military exercises in other states’ 200-mile zones,” spokesperson with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Oslo, Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde said to the Barents Observer when waters around Bear Island were closed earlier in August.