The US military is bringing a number of F-15C fighter jets to Finland for joint exercises with the country’s armed forces, which kick off today. This is the first time that US military aircraft have engaged in such large scale maneuvers in Finland, even though the exercise would considered trivial by US standards.
Between six to eight McDonnell Douglas F-15C Eagle aircraft and up to 100 servicemen from the US Oregon Air National Guard will take part in the joint air exercises, which include education and training operations. The exercises are organized by Karelian Air Command in Rissala (situated in eastern Finland between the cities of Joensuu and Kuopio). Units of the Oregon Air National Guard have previously been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, among others.
In Finland, the arrival of the US military has stirred mixed reactions, with a number of advocates of the time-tested non-alignment policy threatening to organize protests. Previously, the Americans’ visit caused confusion among the ranks of Finland’s political establishment. At a meeting of the defense committee, profile minister Jussi Niinistö was unable to explain who the initiator of joint exercises was. The situation was saved by the Minister for Foreign Affairs Timo Soini, who stated that the initiative came from the American side.
Meanwhile, joint exercises with the United States have been criticized by a number of Finnish politicians and even the head of the defense committee of the Parliament and the President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Ilkka Kanerva.
Mika Varvikko of Finland’s Ministry of Defense stressed that the cooperation between the Finnish and US defense forces is close.
“Cooperation with the US is close and our cooperation on a practical level has been and will continue to remain tight,” Varvikko told Finnish national broadcaster Yle.
— Marianne Mattila Yle (@MarianneMattila) 6 мая 2016 г.
According to him, plans are still underway and may potentially include the participation of Sweden and Norway. Meanwhile, pressure on the traditionally neutral Sweden and Finland to join NATO has been mounting. Last week, Finland’s Chief of Defense Jarmo Lindberg called on the country’s armed forces to step up their defense effort, citing the increased threat from Russia. At the same time, he expressed criticism of NATO’s combat readiness. “It is true that NATO has a rapid reaction force, but it is still rather clumsy, because NATO’s decision-making mechanism is doing badly,” he told evening newspaper Iltalehti.