Russia plans to increase its military presence in the North Atlantic to counter NATO in the region, a top diplomat said Tuesday.
"All these NATO preparations cannot be ignored, and the Russian Federation will take the necessary tit-for-tat measures to ensure its own security,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said, per state-run media. "Reckless saber-rattling in this previously calm region can have far-reaching consequences, and not through any fault of ours.”
Zakharova was referring to NATO operations in Norway, including the arrival of 330 U.S. Marines last year. Scandinavian leaders worry about increased Russian naval activity in the region, as do U.S. and NATO officials. But Zakharova said that the buttressing of Norway, which shares a northern border with Russia, represents a threat.
"The escalation of NATO’s military and political activity in the Arctic region, namely, in the immediate vicinity of Russia on the territory of northern Norway, hasn’t gone unnoticed," Zakharova said. "We have to state that such irresponsible actions will inevitably destabilize the military and political situation in the north, increase tensions and undermine the fabric of Russian-Norwegian relations.”
But Western allies maintain that the moves are provoked by Russia, which has increased its naval activity in the North Atlantic in the years since the 2014 invasion of Ukraine.
“In October 2014, an unidentified vessel spotted off the Stockholm archipelago spurred Sweden’s largest mobilization since the Cold War and accusations that Russia was spying on the country,” the New York Times noted in 2017. “Then, in April 2015, the sudden appearance of an underwater vessel in Finland, which shares a long border with Russia, prompted the navy to fire depth charges — the first such warning in more than 10 years.”
The U.S. Navy is reviving the Second Fleet, which is responsible for the North Atlantic between the eastern seaboard of the United States and the coasts of Norway and Russia.
"We're not looking for a fight," Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said in August, per a U.S.-backed outlet. "But the best way to avoid a fight is develop the most powerful and deadly and competitive Navy possible.”
Zakharova’s warning came on the eve of a NATO summit in Brussels, at which U.S. officials are expected to take a hard line on security in northern Europe.
“I think that it’s very clear that our alliance is doing more in the North Atlantic,” Ambassador Kay Bailey Hutchison, the U.S. representative to NATO, told reporters Tuesday. “We do see Russian activity increasing in the North Atlantic. So it’s a very pertinent question and one that we are focused on.”