300 US marines arriving at Værnes in 2017. Photo: Ned Alley/NTB Scanpix
The United States has confirmed plans to more double the number of troops based in Norway, a move Russia has already criticised as “clearly unfriendly”.
The Norwegian Defence Ministry on Wednesday said that the US had recently informed them that they would push forward with a plan to increase the number of US marines stationed in Norway from 300 to “up to 700”.
“US authorities have recently confirmed that they are happy to continue and increase the rotation-based training and practice in Norway for units from the US Navy Corps,” Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen said in a press release.
“This means that the scheme will continue beyond 2018 and could include up to 700 soldiers.”
The marines, the first foreign troops stationed in Norway since World War Two, were originally expected to leave Norway at the end of this year, but the posting will now last for up to five years.
When the plans were first floated in June, Russia's embassy to Norway complained that they contravened assurances Norway gave the Soviet Union when it joined Nato in 1949 that no foreign combat troops would be stationed on its soil.
The stationing of US troops "contravenes the Norwegian decision from 1949," the embassy said .
But Norway's foreign minister Ine Eriksen Søreide dismissed these claims, repeating the Norwegian government position that the marines should not be seen as a permanent US military base.
"The Russians are very well aware of what it is and what it isn't," she told Marine Corps Times in May. "Of course, they are using it in their propaganda and we are countering that as best we can because this is something that is not new."
The arrangement has also met with criticism in Norway from both the Social left and Labour parties, who argue that the priority should be maintaining a strong Norwegian troop presence near the northern border with Russia.