The deployment of 330 U.S. Marines recalled a Cold War era in which Russian intrigue grabbed headlines and Norwegians lived in fear of Soviet hegemony.
For Norwegians, the sight of dozens of U.S. Marines traipsing through the snow in military fatigues — the first time foreign troops have been posted to their country’s territory since World War II — may have brought a welcomed sense of security, but it also harked back to a dark era of the Cold War that many had hoped to forget.
A U.S. military plane Monday delivered most of the 330 Marines to a garrison in Vaernes, in central Norway, a deployment that Norwegian officials said had been carried out by the United States as part of a bilateral agreement. It was the latest effort by the United States and its allies to buttress their defenses against a resurgent Russia, which condemned the move.
Despite being generally welcomed across the political spectrum, the arrival of the Marines from Camp Lejeune, N.C., also provoked some worries in Norway.
A wealthy oil-rich country that is a member of NATO but not the European Union, the Nordic state has long prided itself on its independence. But the deployment recalled a Cold War era in which Russian intrigue grabbed headlines and Norwegians lived in fear of Soviet hegemony.
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Neuroses about Russia continue to exert influence in Norwegian popular culture. The political television thriller “Okkupert” depicts a future in which Norway is occupied by Russia, and with the backing of the EU, takes over the country’s oil production.
Such fears have been magnified in recent years with murky sightings of submarines across the region that have stoked concern about Russian espionage and military intervention.
Last spring, several residents of Sunnfjord in the country’s west reported to Norwegian authorities that they had seen a submarine with its periscope up. But officials were not convinced that the object was, in fact, a submarine.
In October 2014, an unidentified vessel spotted off the Stockholm archipelago spurred Sweden’s largest mobilization since the Cold War and accusations that Russia was spying on the country. The episode, called “The Hunt for Reds in October” in the Swedish news media, included unsubstantiated reports of a man in black spotted wading near the vessel. It deeply unsettled the nation, even as the Kremlin issued strenuous denials and accused Stockholm of scaremongering.
Then, in April 2015, the appearance of an underwater vessel in Finland, which shares a border with Russia, prompted the navy to fire depth charges — the first such warning in more than 10 years.
In Moscow, the deployment of U.S. Marines has been met with disdain.
After plans for the deployment were confirmed in October, Frants Klintsevich, a deputy chairman of Russia’s defense and security committee in the upper chamber of Parliament, was quoted by Russian news media as saying that the Kremlin viewed the Marines as a direct military threat. He also said the deployment made Norway a potential target for Moscow’s powerful arsenal, which includes nuclear weapons.
On Monday, Russian authorities reiterated their discontent.
Maria Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry, told NRK, the Norwegian public broadcaster, that the move “certainly will not improve relations.”
“The relationship between Norway and Russia is put to a test now,” she said. “Instead of developing economic cooperation, Norway is choosing to deploy United States troops on Norwegian soil.”
The deployment of the Marines, who will be stationed hundreds of miles from the border with Russia, comes as countries across Europe have been reinforcing their defenses out of concern over an increasingly assertive Russia, which has been flexing its muscle from Syria to Ukraine.
Last week, a convoy from a U.S. armored brigade crossed the German border into Poland, the first installment of what are expected to be several thousand NATO troops to be based across Eastern Europe. And in Estonia, thousands of volunteers have been taking part in military training exercises and war games amid concern over Russian aggression.
Relations between the West and Russia have been tense since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and the outbreak of conflict between government forces and pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine.
At the same time, President-elect Donald Trump fanned alarm in Europe in the months leading to his election victory when he questioned whether the United States should automatically defend NATO allies if they were attacked, and predicated U.S. support on the willingness of countries in the alliance to pay their fair share for military protection.
In Norway, some lamented that the Marines’ arrival stood against the country’s traditions and threatened to make it a target of its much larger neighbor.
Morten Harper, a leftist member of the local assembly that governs the area housing the military base, said the Marines’ arrival was ensnaring Norway into the United States’ “power struggle” with Russia.
“We see an ever more tense foreign-policy situation,” he said. “If there ever was to be a major conflict between the great powers in the future, this makes us a more likely bomb target.”
After World War II, Norway abandoned its neutral stance by joining NATO in 1949 and committing to the alliance’s doctrine of collective defense. But the country, which shares a 121-mile northern border with Russia, sought to placate Moscow by pledging that no foreign troops would be allowed to be permanently stationed on its soil.
Norway’s defense minister, Ine Eriksen Soreide, said Sunday that Russia had no reason to be alarmed by the Marines’ presence. She said the deployment did not flout the boots-on-the-ground restriction because the Marines were there on a six-month trial period that was open-ended.
The Marines will take part in military exercises, involving skiing and surviving in Arctic temperatures, to hone their abilities to fight in tough winter conditions. It is part of a bilateral agreement between Oslo and Washington, but Norwegian officials said that, in the case of a conflict, the troops probably would fall under NATO’s command.
Hedda Langemyr of the Norwegian Peace Council, a group made up of several nongovernmental organizations, said the deployment threatened to aggravate tension between Norway and Russia while breaching Norway’s tradition of not allowing permanent foreign troops on its soil.
“It might give the hawks in Moscow arguments for a continued arms race,” she said.