Russia alarmed by U.S. Air Force visit to Norwegian island

MOSCOW/OSLO (Reuters) – Russia said on Thursday it was alarmed by a trip to a Norwegian outpost in the Arctic by a U.S. Air Force unit and urged Oslo to refrain from what it said were de-stabilizing moves in the strategic region.

A squadron of U.S. Air Force staff visited Norway’s air base on the island of Jan Mayen in the North Atlantic in November to test the airfield and to see whether U.S. C-130J Super Hercules military transport planes can land there.

Tensions have been rising in the energy-producing Arctic as climate change has opened up the region, and Russia has built up its own military presence there and touted the potential of the Northern Sea Route across its northern flank.

Moscow has repeatedly raised concerns over NATO-member Norway’s military spending, its moves to develop its military infrastructure and the deployment of foreign military personnel in the country.

Commenting on the U.S. visit to the island, the Russian Foreign Ministry told Reuters Moscow believed Norway’s recent military activity was ultimately aimed at Russia and that such actions destabilize the region.

“…the sheer fact of the possible presence of the U.S. Air Force on the island, albeit occasional, is alarming,” it said.

“We hope Oslo will be responsible and far-sighted in building its policy in the north and will refrain from actions that undermine regional stability and damage bilateral relations,” the ministry said.

Earlier this month, Moscow accused Norway of restricting its activities on the archipelago of Svalbard, a remote chain of islands in the Arctic, and said it wanted talks with Oslo to have the issue resolved.

The U.S. Air Force visit has also raised questions in Oslo.

Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has played down the implications of the visit on the security situation in the north and Norway’s relationship with Russia.

“Individual transport flights to Jan Mayen with planes from allied countries will not impact the security policy picture in the north,” he told parliament.

He said a request to help with transport flights to Jan Mayen was sent to allied countries in 2019 as Norway’s air force was stretched.

He said planes from military forces from Austria, Sweden, Denmark and France had flown to Jan Mayen between 2017 and 2019.

“Jan Mayen will not be used for military activities,” he said.

(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Gwladys Fouche in Oslo; editing by Tom Balmforth and Timothy Heritage)

On Norway’s icy border with Russia, unease over military buildup

On Norway’s icy border with Russia, unease over military buildup
By Gwladys Fouche

SETERMOEN/KIRKENES, Norway (Reuters) – Under a soft winter sun in northern Norway, U.S. Marines train in the ice and snow as they learn how to fight in the freezing cold.

“Which country is to the northeast?” Staff Sergeant Daniel Croak bellows at a group of 20 soldiers in camouflaged combat jackets and white trousers in a pine forest near the town of Setermoen.

“Russia!” they shout back.

The troops are part of a contingent of 650 Marines staging a recent joint military exercise with 3,000 soldiers from NATO-member Norway at a time when both NATO and Russia have increased their military presence in the Arctic.

A few hundred kilometers from Setermoen, Russia is modernizing its forces on the Kola Peninsula, home to its Northern Fleet. Russia has also carried out maneuvers in recent weeks, staging a major submarine exercise in the North Atlantic, according to intelligence sources cited by Norwegian media.

“Do not use your GPSes. They may be jammed,” Croak barks to the Marines, a warning stemming from NATO accusations – denied by Russia – that Moscow has in the past jammed GPS systems in Norway.

The rising tension is unsettling many Norwegians, not least in the town of Kirkenes, which for three decades has been trying to foster cooperation with Russia.

Residents can cross the nearby border quickly with a visa-free permit. Many go to the nearby Russian town of Nikel to buy petrol because it is much cheaper there, and street signs use both the Cyrillic and Latin scripts.

“I don’t like it that they build up the military on both sides of the border. We don’t want rising tensions,” said Eirik Wikan, co-owner of the Kimek shipyard in Kirkenes, which gets two-thirds of its revenues from repairing Russian vessels.

“Here in the north, we work together to reduce tensions … We are trying not to be part of them.”

“A RUSSIAN TOWN IN NORWAY”

About a third of the company’s 180 employees are Russian, 22 of whom work in the Russian port city of Murmansk.

Nikolai Chagin, a mechanic from the Russian town of Severodvinsk, has worked at the shipyard in Kirkenes since 2006.

“I don’t have those problems I used to have in Russia before: I have a good job, a normal salary,” he said.

About 10% of Kirkenes residents are now from the Kola Peninsula.

Kirkenes’ Samovar theater company performs in both Norway and Russia, and has Russian and Norwegians employees. Russian choreographer Nikolai Shchetnev feels at home and is thinking of applying for dual nationality.

“Kirkenes is a Russian town in Norway,” said Rune Rafaelsen, the mayor of Soer-Varanger municipality which includes Kirkenes.

He said he would not welcome more tanks on the border though he saw Norway’s NATO membership as “a guarantee that I can do my job.”

Russia denies responsibility for the rise in tensions. It blames the recent basing of U.S. Marines in Norway, which it sees as a security challenge.

But Norway’s worries grew after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and then staged Arctic military exercises including maritime maneuvers with ballistic missile-capable vessels present.

“These were clear messages from Moscow,” said Lieutenant-General Rune Jakobsen, Commander of the Norwegian Joint Headquarters — the Norwegian Armed Forces operational command center. “Do not be part of (NATO’s) ballistic-missile defense.”

Despite the tensions, he says Russian forces are behaving less aggressively on the frontier with Norway than in some other border zones between Russia and NATO, such as the Baltic Sea.

In efforts to build trust, Jakobsen has in recent weeks had talks with the regional head of Russia’s FSB security service in the Kola Peninsula, and met the new head of the Northern Fleet, Alexander Moiseyev, in Kirkenes.

“As a small nation neighboring a superpower, you have to strike the right balance between deterrence and reassurance,” Jakobsen said.

But the military exercises are also important for Norway.

“Working together is what makes it possible to fight together, if we have to,” said Brigadier Lars Lervik, commander of the Northern Brigade based in Setermoen.

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

Deep freeze keeps grip on eastern United States; four die

Elena Barduniotis from Colorado waits in Times Square ahead of New Year's celebrations in Manhattan.

By Brendan O’Brien

MILWAUKEE (Reuters) – A record-shattering Arctic freeze kept its grip on much of the United States east of the Rocky Mountains on Tuesday but temperatures everywhere except the Northeast were expected to warm within 24 hours.

Many school districts shut their classrooms due to the cold snap, which claimed four lives over the long New Year’s weekend.

The National Weather Service issued wind chill warnings for Tuesday as dangerously low temperatures were due from eastern Montana across the Midwest into the Atlantic coast and the Northeast and down through the deep South.

School districts in Iowa, Massachusetts, Indiana, Ohio and North Carolina canceled or delayed the start of classes as bitterly cold temperatures, 20 degrees to 30 degrees Fahrenheit (11 to 17 degrees Celsius) below normal, were expected across the eastern half of the United States.

“Just the bitter cold which is just too dangerous to put kids out on the street waiting for a bus that may not come,” Herb Levine, superintendent of the Peabody Public Schools, north of Boston, told a local CBS affiliate television station.

The cold was blamed for the deaths of two men in separate incidents in Milwaukee, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. A homeless man was found dead on a porch in Charleston, West Virginia, while another man was found dead outside a church in Detroit and police said he may have froze to death, local news outlets reported.

Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents to call the city if they saw people outside.

“We want every resident to have shelter and warmth,” she said in a tweet.

Many places across the United States experienced record low temperatures over the last few days. Omaha, Nebraska, posted a low of minus 20F (minus 29C), breaking a 130-year-old record, and Aberdeen, South Dakota, shattered a record set in 1919 with a temperature of minus 32F (minus 36C).

The cold should ease across most of the country after Tuesday, but the northeastern section of the country will see a repeat of the frigid weather on Thursday or Friday as another arctic blast hits the area.

Private AccuWeather forecaster said the cold snap could combine with a storm brewing off the Bahamas to bring snow and high winds to much of the Eastern Seaboard as it heads north on Wednesday and Thursday.

(Reporting by Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Jeffrey Benkoe)

Arctic ice loss driven by natural swings, not just mankind

FILE PHOTO: An undated NASA illustration shows Arctic sea ice at a record low wintertime maximum extent for the second straight year, according to scientists at the NASA-supported National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) and NASA. NASA/Goddard's Scientific Visualization Studio/C. Starr/Handout via Reuters/File Photo

By Alister Doyle

OSLO (Reuters) – Natural swings in the Arctic climate have caused up to half the precipitous losses of sea ice around the North Pole in recent decades, with the rest driven by man-made global warming, scientists said on Monday.

The study indicates that an ice-free Arctic Ocean, often feared to be just years away, in one of the starkest signs of man-made global warming, could be delayed if nature swings back to a cooler mode.

FILE PHOTO: Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is seen in a NASA Operation IceBridge survey picture taken March 25, 2014.

FILE PHOTO: Eureka Sound on Ellesmere Island in the Canadian Arctic is seen in a NASA Operation IceBridge survey picture taken March 25, 2014. NASA/Michael Studinger/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

Natural variations in the Arctic climate “may be responsible for about 30–50 percent of the overall decline in September sea ice since 1979,” the U.S.-based team of scientists wrote in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Sea ice has shrunk steadily and hit a record low in September 2012 — late summer in the Arctic — in satellite records dating back to 1979.

The ice is now around the smallest for mid-March, rivaling winter lows set in 2016 and 2015.

The study, separating man-made from natural influences in the Arctic atmospheric circulation, said that a decades-long natural warming of the Arctic climate might be tied to shifts as far away as the tropical Pacific Ocean.

“If this natural mode would stop or reverse in the near future, we would see a slow-down of the recent fast melting trend, or even a recovery of sea ice,” said lead author Qinghua Ding, of the University of California, Santa Barbara.

But in the long term the build-up of man-made greenhouse gases would become an ever more overwhelming factor, he wrote in an e-mail.

“Looking ahead, it is still a matter of when, rather than if, the Arctic will become ice-free in summer,” said Ed Hawkins, of the University of Reading, who was not involved in the study.

FILE PHOTO: The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies for some mid-mission fixes dropped by parachute from a C-130 in the Arctic Ocean in this July 12, 2011 NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters June 11, 2012. NASA/Kathryn Hansen/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy, in the midst of their ICESCAPE mission, retrieves supplies for some mid-mission fixes dropped by parachute from a C-130 in the Arctic Ocean in this July 12, 2011 NASA handout photo obtained by Reuters June 11, 2012. NASA/Kathryn Hansen/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo

The melt of the Arctic is disrupting the livelihoods of indigenous peoples and damaging wildlife such as polar bears and seals while opening the region to more oil and gas and shipping.

Professor Andrew Shepherd, of Leeds University, who did not participate in the study, welcomed it as pinning down the relative shares of natural and man-made influences. “Nobody’s done this attribution before,” he said.

The findings could help narrow down huge uncertainties about when the ice will vanish.

In 2013, a U.N. panel of climate scientists merely said human influences had “very likely contributed” to the loss of Arctic ice, without estimating how much. It said that the ice could disappear by mid-century if emissions keep rising.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Catherine Evans)

Arctic Sea Ice Up 60 Percent In 2013

In a surprising rebuke to those predicting an “ice-free Arctic in 2013” the level of Arctic sea ice has increased 60% from 2012 levels.

The Arctic sea ice averaged 2.35 million miles in August 2013 compared to a low point of 1.32 million in September 2012. The total ice cover within standard deviation of the 30-year average. Continue reading

Arctic Ice Melting At Record Rate

Scientists at the Norwegian Polar Institute are reporting that the record-breaking ice melt this summer is part of an accelerating trend that could have significant long-term consequences on climate and ocean conditions.

The researchers are saying that the sea ice is becoming significantly thinner and more vulnerable than in any previous year since monitoring began 30 years ago. The peak for ice melting has yet to pass as mid-September has been the traditional peak time. However, temperatures in the region remain above freezing. Continue reading