North Europe Deepens Defense Cooperation Against Russia

Britain, the Baltic and Nordic countries step up intelligence sharing and crossborder air force training.

A Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet
A Swedish Saab JAS 39 Gripen fighter jet (Norden/Johannes Jansson)

Defense ministers from eight Northern European countries agreed on Thursday to expand cooperation in order to counter an increase in Russian incursions of their airspace.

Meeting in Oslo, the ministers from the three Baltic states, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom agreed to do more to share intelligence and widen cross-border air force training in the region. Officials from Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands and Poland also attended.

Norwegian defense minister Ine Marie Eriksen Søreide said existing air force training cooperation between Finland, Norway and Sweden would be extended to Denmark and cover all Nordic airspace. She also said NATO would help the Baltic states to improve their military capacities which are currently very limited.

Eriksen Søreide’s British counterpart, Michael Fallon, told reporters the immediate motivation for strengthening ties in the region was Russia’s regular “flouting” of aviation rules and its intimidation of neighbors by sending jets as far as Ireland and Portugal.

“NATO has recorded over one hundred intercepts so far this year, three times as many as in 2013 and the year is not yet finished,” he said. “We will not allow Russia to continue to invade our airspace.”

The Nordic region has seemed particularly vulnerable. In September, two Russian warplanes violated Sweden’s airspace. A Russian fighter jet later nearly collided with a Swedish surveillance aircraft when it flew without responders. The Swedish navy also hunted for what was believed to be a Russian submersible in its territorial waters the following month.

Russian nuclear bombers have also repeatedly entered or neared Dutch airspace without authorization. F-16 fighter jets most recently scrambled in August to intercept such a plane. A month later, a similar bomber aircraft came close to violating British airspace over Scotland. It, too, was intercepted by NATO fighters.

East-West tensions have mounted since Russia occupied and annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in March, following a row with the European Union about the bloc’s improving relations with the former Soviet republic and the overthrow of a relatively pro-Russian president in Kiev.