Norway says it has electronic proof that Russian forces disrupted GPS signals during recent NATO exercises, and has demanded an explanation from its eastern neighbour, the Nordic country’s defence minister said on Monday (18 March).
Finland and Norway said in November 2018 that Russia may have intentionally disrupted GPS signals before and during military exercises last year, which have also affected the navigation of civilian air traffic in the region.
In late October 2018, NATO conducted its largest military exercises since the end of the Cold War in Europe’s North in Norway, amid growing tensions with Russia over Moscow’s development of new nuclear-ready missiles and uncertainty over the Trump administration’s commitment to transatlantic security.
“Trident Juncture”, which took place in an area stretching from the Baltic Sea to Iceland, involved 50,000 military personnel from 31 countries – the 29 NATO members plus non-members Sweden and Finland.
Asked about the alleged jamming of GPS signals, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg described them as “dangerous and irresponsible”, especially when “taking into account the importance of GPS signals for both civil aviation, not least for search- and rescue, for emergency services.”
A recent Norwegian government intelligence report, Fokus 2019, which lists potential risks and threats to Norway’s national security, revealed that Moscow had simulated a number of mock attacks with tactical bombers on Norwegian Arctic radars. Most of the GPS jamming coincided with the NATO-led exercises.
Further GPS jamming, which has caused concern for civil aviation in Finnmark’s police and maritime services as well as private companies in construction businesses, has taken place at least five times since 2017, coming from “military sources on the Kola Peninsula”, the Barents Observer reported recently.
Moscow has denied involvement in jamming critical communications in either Norway or Finland, with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov calling Norway’s allegations concerning GPS interference a “fantasy”, asking Oslo to provide facts.
In response, Norwegian Defence Minister, Frank Bakke-Jensen said that they have provided all the evidence asked for.
“They were exercising very close to the border and they knew this will affect areas on the other side,” he said.
In bilateral talks with a Russian defence delegation that took place last week in Oslo, GPS jamming was confirmed on the agenda, although press statements issued after the talks avoided the matter.
The growing military presence in the region has brought back old feelings of mistrust, Norwegian officials told EURACTIV during a conference earlier in January.
“In recent years we have experienced new and upgraded Russian capabilities and increased Russian military activity in the High North,” said Tone Skogen, state secretary in the Norwegian defence ministry.
“This underlines the need also for NATO to closely monitor developments in the region, particularly in the maritime domain. The Atlantic High North, up to the North Pole, is part of NATO’s area of responsibility, and covered by Article 5,” he said.
Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented in February on Norway’s plans boost NATO presence in the Arctic region.
“Russia regards Norway’s desire for an increased NATO presence as contrary to the historical traditions of good neighbourly relations and cooperation in the Arctic. By doing this, Oslo continues to escalate tensions and increase the risks of military activity,” she said.
Such activity will not go unnoticed and the Russian Federation will take all the necessary measures to ensure its security.”
[Edited by Georgi Gotev and Samuel Stolton]