American F-15s to join 1st Finland drill over ‘increased Russian activity’
Members of the US Oregon Air National Guard have been dispatched to Finland’s Karelian Air Command in Rissala, located in the eastern part of the country, for joint air exercises that will last two weeks in the beginning of May, Yle news agency reported, citing the Finnish Air Force Command.
“Cooperation with the US is close and our cooperation on a practical level has been and will continue to remain tight,” said an official at the Finnish Department of Defense, Mika Varvikko.
The Oregon Air National Guard have previously been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The Nordic country has never hosted the US Air Force before. The Americans are planning to bring along somewhere between six and eight unarmed McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle tactical fighter jets. The exercises will consist of “education and training operations.”
The exercises will take place in Eastern Finland but Sweden and Norway could also join in, according to Varvikko.
Compared to other US exercises, this will be a small event. About 70 to 100 Americans will be coming over in May, Yle cites sources as saying.
However, the grounds for inviting the American military for joint drills appeared identical to those recently voiced by NATO member states in Eastern Europe. Ilkka Kanerva, the chairperson of the Parliamentary Defense Committee, pointed a finger at the “increased activity of Russia.”
While still a “neutral” state, Finland has been recently sending signals it is now more open to NATO membership – an idea that triggered warnings of “consequences” for good-neighborly Russian-Finnish relations from Moscow. Russia has stated it considers NATO’s expansion to the east an unfriendly policy and has been warning states tempted to join the military bloc over “losing sovereignty” in foreign policy decisions as a result.
Referring to the NATO membership, Finland’s Foreign Minister Timo Soini told The Baltic Times in January “this government now, which I am part of, says that we keep our options open.”
However, Soini was quick to add that the government does not foresee such a move being made in the near future, as “the majority [of Finns] are opposing NATO membership.”
Russia is one of Finland’s major partners in trade, and while food trade has recently suffered a blow due to the EU-Russian tit-for-tat sanctions, there has been a new development in the energy sector. In January, Russian state energy corporation Rosatom launched the construction of a nuclear power plant in northern Finland.