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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Maneuvers In Norway Irk Russia




OSLO, Norway -- It sounds like Kosovo, with ethnic cleansing, violence, NATO and other international peacekeepers and apparently soured relations with Russia.


Yet a 10-nation military and humanitarian aid exercise that began on Europe's northern fringe Monday was planned two years ago. That was long before the Kosovo tragedy burst into the public's awareness, making the imagination of planners seem almost prophetic.


"The exercise has nothing to do with the Balkan crisis," said Dag Isaaksen, spokesman for the Barents Peace 99 maneuvers. "But the scenario we're training under has very many similarities to the situation in Kosovo."


And, as in Kosovo, the exercise seems to have riled Russia, because for the first time in nearly four decades, Norway is allowing a major Western military exercise in its northernmost province, Finnmark, NATO's only border with Russia.


The purpose of the exercise, which lasts through Saturday, is to practice coordinating military peacekeeping and humanitarian aid efforts in a hostile region, similar to real operations under way in Kosovo.


Under the scenario, Finnmark was divided into two imaginary countries mired in an ethnic conflict, resulting in a flood of refugees, severe human rights abuses and a humanitarian catastrophe.


Russia abruptly pulled out of the Partnership for Peace exercise during planning late last year, with no official explanation. Russian news reports said Moscow disliked the presence of NATO troops near the arctic border, a region Norway long put off-limits for the alliance to avoid tension.


The land, sea and air exercise was seen as a change in that policy.


"This is the first time NATO troops have exercised in Finnmark," said Captain Lar Terje Olsen by telephone from the northern province.


Even though it is not an official NATO exercise, a majority of the countries present are members of the Western military alliance, including the United States, Britain and Germany. The closest troops are about 150 kilometers from the border.