NATO prepares for a Russian threat in the harsh Arctic climate

Atte Ohmana young Finnish conscript, prepares to disembark on a freezing Norwegian beach, as part of a NATO exercise in the Arctic.

“There is a saying that says: if you want peace, prepare for war,” the 19-year-old explains to AFP. “It's exactly what we do,” he adds, taking his machine gun.

The maneuver, which takes place in the Arctic, is part of military exercises NATO Steadfast, the most important of the Alliance led by the United States since the end of the Cold War. For weeks, the exercises mobilize nearly 90,000 men and women and dozens of ships, armored vehicles and combat aircraft.

While Italian paratroopers descend onto the beach from helicopters, Swedish landing barges converge on the scene and French alpine troops, on skis, stand by.

The message is clear: NATO is ready to defend itself against an increasingly aggressive Russia, two years after Moscow invaded Ukraine. Since then, the Alliance has been strengthened with the entry of Finland and Sweden, which this month became its 32nd member.

“We show that we are ready to defend our territories and it is very important to act together to strengthen our capabilities,” explained the Swedish Minister of Defense, Pal Johnson, from a point located on the border between Norway and Finland. “At the moment, Russian troops are bogged down in Ukraine, but Russia has communicated its great ambitions to reconstitute and adapt its forces there,” she said.

The possibility of Russia attacking a NATO member should not be excluded. As Moscow has put its economy into war mode, Western powers are experiencing increasing difficulties in providing Kyiv with the weapons and ammunition it demands.

The head of the Norwegian armed forces, Eirik Kristoffersen, claims that the number of Russian troops stationed near his country's border is less than a fifth of what it was before the invasion of Ukraine. “But on the sea and air front, as well as from the point of view of nuclear forces, they kept all their forces intact in the region,” he says.

The Arctic region is now at the center of competition between Russia and NATO. Since the arrival of the president Vladimir Putin To power in 2000, Russian forces have continued to increase their presence in the area. Both Finland and Sweden are trying to pressure their new allies to increasingly compete with Moscow in that key region.

The Arctic is becoming a strategic area and that is why “Russia is investing a lot here, and China is also monitoring the area,” explains the Finnish Defense Minister, Antti Hakkanen.

According to Rear Admiral David Patchell deputy commander of the US Second Fleet, climate change will open, according to a conservative estimate, access to important resources worth about $1,000 trillion in the region. And at the same time, the melting of ice will mean that the Arctic becomes navigable and will connect the oceans of the entire planet. “We must learn to work in the Arctic,” he explains to AFP.

“Working in those conditions is a big shock. We rarely see snow like that every day,” said US Marine Corps Corporal Cpl. Joshua Maddox. “The biggest challenge is psychological, you just have to be very well prepared,” he said.

His colleague in the Marines, Sgt. Joshua Perezchoastated for his part that “if Putin decides to go further” and act worse “than what he is already doing,” he will be there “to play my role, to help other countries.” “It's our mission,” he assured.