|Barents Sea Incident|
|Part of the Russo-Norwegian War|
KNM Skjold fires a Naval Strike Missile at a Russian naval vessel during the early hours of September 5, 2010.
|Date:||September 5, 2010|
|Result:|| Norwegian tactical victory
The Barents Sea Incident is the name given to a incident involving naval forces of the Kingdom of Norway and the Russian Federation in the Barents Sea 25 km northwest of Nordkapp, and 3 km from Norwegian territorial waters. In the early hours of September 5, 2010, the Russian Navy corvettes MPK 203 Yunga and the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel KV Nordkapp engaged eachother in the Barents Sea. While it is still today unclear who initiated the engagement, the two sides were later reinforced by the corvettes MPK 113 and MPK 130 Nar'yan-Mar and the patrol boat P960 Skjold of the Norwegian Navy. The engagement resulted in the sinking of the corvette MPK 113 and the coast guard vessel KV Nordkapp.
The incident resulted in prompt condemnation of the Norwegian government and the Norwegian armed forces by the Russian government under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, which presented an ultimatum the following day. On September 9, 2010, Russia launched a large-scale ground-, air- and naval-based military attack on Norway, thus starting the Russo-Norwegian War.
Between the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991 to the late 1990s naval activity was very low. 2003 saw a major increase in activity, including several major exercises. The Northern Fleet followed in January 2004 when thirteen ships and seven submarines took part in exercises in the Barents Sea. The involvement of Admiral Kuznetsov and Kirov-class nuclear-powered cruiser Petr Velikiy was overshadowed however by two ballistic missile launch failures, made more embarrassing because President Vladimir Putin was afloat aboard the Typhoon-class SSBN Arkhangelsk to witness the tests. Neither of the Delta IV-class Novomoskovsk nor Kareliya were able to successfully launch what were apparently RSM-54 SLBMs.
Naval activity increased for every year since 2003 along with aeriar activity. On August 17, 2007, on the same day that 14 Russian bombers, tankers, fighter and reconnaissance aircraft flew dangerously close to Norwegian territory, President Vladimir Putin said Russia permanently resumed Friday long-distance patrol flights of strategic bombers, which were suspended in 1992 after the collapse of the Soviet Union. "I made a decision to restore flights of Russian strategic bombers on a permanent basis, and at 00:00 today, August 17, 14 strategic bombers, support aircraft and aerial tankers were deployed. Combat duty has begun, involving 20 aircraft." On December 3 a flotilla consisting of the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, several naval vessels, tankers and around 47 aircraft and helicopters left the naval base at Severomorsk at Kola for the Mediterranean. The patrols would continue until February 3, 2008. On December 11, the naval unit held an exercise between the Norwegian oil rigs around 111 kilometres from Bergen, where they tested missiles.
Following the Norwegian parliamentary election in September 2009, the new centre-right government under Prime Minister Siv Jensen of the Progress Party, relations between Norway and Russia deteriorated due to several reasons. Some of the newly elected government's main issues were repairing the strained relations to NATO and the United States, oil exploration and production in Vesterålen and Lofoten in Northern Norway and the rebuilding and redeployment of the Armed Forces in Northern Norway. Especially the latter was criticized by the Russian government, who called it "an unnecessary rearmament with the sole purpose of provoking the sovereignty of the Russian Federation."
When StatoilHydro discovered enourmous oil, gas and fish reserves in the disputed maritime "Grey Zone" in January 2010, the Russians increased the pressure on the Norwegian government for their share of the reserves, claiming some of it was located in Russian territorial waters. Increasing oil prices and the economical instability of the financial crisis hit the Russians significantly, and estimates concluded that the massive oil reserves in the Sthokman field would be unavailable to obtain for at least 15 to 20 years, while the Norwegian's discovery of a smaller, but more accessible oil reserves could be produced by the Norwegians within a five-year period as soon as the Norwegian parliament passed legislation to start gas production there. The hostilities between NATO and Russia escalated with the Russian intervention in the South Ossetia War of August 2008, and in April 2010 Russia demanded that the Norwegians allowed the Russians access to the field, to which the Centre-Right coalition refused. Military build-up and demands continued, and the Russian Northern Fleet, with its flagship Admiral Kuznetsov in lead, held several naval exercises during the summer of 2010. Strategic bombers also continued flying along the Norwegian territorial waters during that time.
On September 3 a flotilla consisting of the aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov, several naval vessels, tankers and around 47 aircraft and helicopters left the naval base at Severomorsk to hold a naval exercise in the Barents Sea. The majority of the Norwegian Royal Navy's combat vessels had been deployed in Northern Norway following the election, and the Coast Guard followed the Russian ships along their journey along the Norwegian coast.
At 2100 hours on September 4, the Norwegian Coast Guard vessel KV Nordkapp left for the Barents Sea from Nordkapp to take over from KV Senja to observe and report the activity of the Russian naval exercise in the Barents Sea 24 nautical miles from Nordkapp. At 0021 hours on September 5 they had reached their destination, and they began their observation. Not much time had passed when they discovered a Russian naval vessel heading to their position only 17 nautical miles from the Norwegian coast, and only 5 miles from Norwegian territorial waters. At 0112 they alarmed the Norwegian Naval Base at Nordkapp that a Russian naval vessel was now within 15 nautical miles, and asked for further presence should the situation escalate. 20 minutes later Nordkapp established radio contact with the Russian vessel, which presented themselves as merely conducting a peaceful and non-aggressive exercise. However, following an argument between the two ships the vessels moved towards each other.
Fighting breaks out
At 0151 hours on September 5, the KV Nordkapp and the MPK 113 engaged each other with their cannons. To this date it is unsure who fired the first shots. While the Norwegian vessel did fire warning shots with their 57 mm Bofors cannon, it was not aimed at the Russian vessel itself. The Russian government claimed the Norwegians had provoked the Russians by firing at the MPK 113, the Norwegians in return stated that the Russians had provoked the Norwegians by moving towards Norwegian territorial waters while ignoring Norwegian calls for radio communications and warning shots.
Fighting continued for another 15 minutes when the KV Senja returned to the scene and began also to engage the MPK 113. However, at 0230 hours the MPK 113 was reinforced by three corvettes: the and the modern corvette 530 Steregushchiy. Outnumbered, the Norwegian vessels began sustaining heavy damage from the three Grisha class corvettes' 57mm AK-257 guns. When the KV Senja was severly damaged by a Yakhont anti-ship missile launched by the Steregushchiy at 0250 hours, the Norwegian vessels fell back, but were fired upon by the Russian Grisha class corvettes by their 57 mm guns.
Still under Russian fire the the crew of the KV Senja was evacuated to the KV Nordkapp. However, by then the Skjold class patrol boat KNM Skjold had reached the two Coastal Guard vessels. The Skjold class patrol boats was new class of superfast, large stealth missile craft, also known as MTBs (missile torpedo boat). Seeing that the Russians hadn't detected its presence, they saw a golden opportunity to force the Russians to a retreat. At 0309 hours KNM Skjold launched a Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile at the MPK 113, which took a direct hit. Before the Russians managed to get a picture of what they were opposing, KNM Skjold fired a second Naval Strike Missile at the MPK 203 Yunga, which was severely damaged.
At 0320 hours the Russian vessels withdrew to sea, while the Norwegian vessels returned to Norwegian territorial waters. At 0326 hours the KV Senja sunk, 36 minutes after being hit by a SSM.
Immediately after the news of the incident reached news agencies in Norway, Russia and worldwide, it sparked intense debate in both Norway and Russia and worsened Russo-Norwegian relations even further. In Norway, it was the news channel TV2 Nyhetskanalen and the newspapers VG and Aftenposten that first brought the news of the incident. Prime Minister Siv Jensen called the incident as an "unfortunate and unnecessary escalation of an already tense relationship", and declared that "it is not the goal nor the wish of the Norwegian people to provoke Russia into go and called for an international, non-biased, neutral commission to investigate the incident. This was supported by the majority of the Norwegian parliament, such as the Norwegian Labour Party, Centre Party, Christian Democratic Party, Liberal Party and fellow government party Conservative Party. The left-wing parties Red and Socialist Left Party also called the incident as an unfortunate escalation of the crisis, and claimed that Prime Minister Siv Jensen and the Progress Party's policies had directly provoked the incident. However, the Progress Party and the Conservative Party also praised the success of the Skjold class vessels for success in their first combat experience. In cities like Oslo, Trondheim and Tromsø demonstrations in support of the Norwegian action were held.
In Russia the incident was met with outrage. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the Norwegian government, calling the incident as a "Norwegian act of aggression", and claimed that the Norwegians had fired upon the Russian vessels first in international waters. They criticized the European Union and NATO as "biased in favour of Norway against Russia", and criticized U.S. President Barack Obama and fellow NATO member governments for "not condemning the Norway and thus taking their side". Anti-Norwegian and anti-NATO protests were held in cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In Moscow the Embassy of Norway was besieged by protesters, including pro-Kremlin youth organisations Nashi and the Molodaya Gvardiya.
The news of the incident came as a shock to both the European Union and fellow NATO countries. Most nations supported the Norwegian government's call for a neutral commission to investigate the incident, and some nations, such as the United States, Denmark and Sweden, criticized the Russians for not agreeing to the Norwegian offer.
- United States – U.S. President Barack Obama expressed his concerns over the escalating crisis, and called for both sides to stand down and let a non-biased commission consisting of neutral nations from the international community to investigate the incident. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the Russian government for conducting an exercise close to Norwegian territorial waters and for not agreeing to the Norwegian offer for a neutral inquiry in this matter.
- Denmark – Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Per Stig Møller expressed their concerns for the escalating crisis, and supported the U.S. call for both sides to stand down and let a neutral commission investigate as proposed by Norway to figure out who is responsible for the incident. They also criticized the Russian government for biasing the news against Norway, and not accepting the Norwegian offer.
- Sweden – Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt was quoted as saying expressed his concerns for the escalating crisis, and supported the request for a neutral commission as proposed by Norway. He also criticized the Russian government for not accepting the Norwegian offer, making similarities to the "Hitler's behaviour towards Czechoslovakia during the Sudeten Crisis in 1938".
- NATO – NATO expressed their concern over the situation, but urged both sides to negotiate with eachother to resolve the situation, along with the neutral commission as proposed by Norway.
- European Union – A spokesman for the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, Javier Solana, expressed their will to lead or participate in the commission to solve the mystery surrounding the incident.
- United Nations – Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed his concern for the escalation, and urged both sides to resume active negotiation, and let a international commission investigate the incident.
Cyber attacks on Norway
A series of distributed denial of service cyber attacks began on September 6, 2010 that swamped websites of Norwegian organizations, including the Norwegian Storting, banks, ministries, newspapers and broadcasters. Norwegian officials accused Russia of unleashing cyber war.