Oslo (AFP) – Russian ships docked at what was once a secret Norwegian naval base in the Arctic have prompted concern from the NATO country’s former top military leaders, anxious about its resurgent eastern neighbour roaming nearby.
The rocky relations have led some to criticise the shutting down of Olavsvern Naval Base, a massive complex burrowed into a mountain near the northern town of Tromsoe, that has been closed since 2009.
Shuttering it was driven by the then seemingly reduced threat from Moscow and its massive Northern Fleet based on Russia’s nearby Kola Peninsula.
“We sold the only base worthy of the name that we had up there. It’s pure madness,” former vice admiral Einar Skorgen, who commanded Norway’s northern forces, told AFP.
Skorgen and other critics say Norway has robbed itself of a crucial foothold in the far north, forcing its submarines to travel hundreds of extra miles from their bases to defend the region.
On top of that, three Russian ships have spent the winter docked deep within the mountain hideaway, once a closely guarded military facility.
“We are the only country along with Russia to have a permanent presence in the Barents Sea, where we share a common border. Obviously our navy should be stationed there, including our submarines,” Skorgen said.
“If the ships aren’t there where they are needed, they might as well be scrapped altogether.”
The way the base changed hands and ended up being rented to Russian research vessels — some of them seismic survey ships reportedly linked to state-owned energy giant Gazprom — has added further fuel to their anger.
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