Finland, Switzerland and Sweden, all non-members of NATO, will join military drills over Sweden and northern Norway with other NATO countries following newly assertive Russian policies in the Arctic regions. The Arctic challenge will start on May 25 and span 12 days with 100 plans from nine European countries, aiming to prepare for a potential military crisis with Russia. Russia has recently increased its military activity along its borders with Scandinavian countries.
As part of air force drills over the Arctic region, Finland will send 16 F-18 Hornet fighter jets, as reported by Sputnik International. F-16s, Eurofighter and Jet Falcons will also be provided by other countries joining military drills.
Following the deepening rift between Russia and NATO over the Ukrainian crisis, the Arctic territories have become a new area of conflict in the already-deteriorated relationship between the West and Russia. After the annexation of Ukraine's Crimea by Russia in March of last year, there has been growing fear among European countries that the Cold War years could be making a return. Regarding Russia's increased militarization of rebel-held areas in the Ukrainian Donbass region in the country's east and its explicit support of pro-Russian separatists, who are seeking regional leadership close to Russia, have prompted fears among Western countries. As tension between Russia and the West intensifies, the ex-Soviet Baltic states and Scandinavian countries see Russia as a clear threat to their national security and territorial integrity.
The Russian Ministry of Defense recently announced that it would "enhance the safety of the Northern Sea Route's traffic and respond in a timely manner to potential military threats in the area," in February while deploying military troops on the Chukotka peninsula, across the Bering Strait from Alaska, in order to "provide safety to the Northern Sea Route" as a challenge to Western countries in the Arctic region. As a response to Russia, northern European countries gathered in April to increase military cooperation against possible military threats from Russia. In addition, European international airspace has reportedly been violated by Russian jets. After Finnish airspace was violated by four Russian jets, Finland warned the EU countries and the U.S. to take affirmative action against the Russian threat that has ignited old Cold-War fears and rhetoric in ex-Soviet Baltic states. Russian involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine and its annexation of Crimea has led to growing fears among northern European states including Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
The Arctic is rich in mineral resources and is an area of land and sea that is mostly covered in ice. The area covers 20 to 30 million square kilometers and is believed to hold 30 percent of the world's undiscovered natural gas and one-seventh of its untapped oil reserves. The Ukrainian crisis is not the only problem between Western powers and Russia as a possible conflict with Russia over oil fields in Arctic regions could be a threat for a new Cold War.
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