The Russia saga seems to have gotten a bit more complicated. According to Marine Corps Gen. Robert Neller, "there's a war coming," and U.S. troops need to prepare. Last week, the four-star general spoke at a base in Norway, telling troops to prepare for a "big-ass" fight. Newsweek reports that Neller told the crowd, "I hope I'm wrong," but that a war between the U.S. and Russia could be a real possibility.
There are currently some 300 Marines stationed in Norway, which shares a border with Russia. The military recently announced that troops (who were initially scheduled to stay in Norway for just one year) will remain in the region throughout the new year — and that more troops are likely to join. Exactly how many additional troops will come to the area remains to be seen, but an influx could rile Russia, noted Ronald Green, the Sergeant Major of the Marine Corps (i.e. the highest ranking noncommissioned officer in the Marines).
They're watching. Just like you watch them, they watch you. We've got 300 Marines up here; we could go from 300 to 3,000 overnight. We could raise the bar.
In a tweet published Tuesday, Neller wrote that he and Green had visited Marines and members of the Navy in nine different countries over the prior six days. He added a message for troops to "Stay ready and Protect What You've Earned, 24/7."
The stated goal of the military's presence in Norway is to enhance partnerships with European allies and improve service members' ability to fight and survive in cold weather conditions. And according to Military.com, marines stationed in Norway have even been instructed not to mention Russia at all while speaking to the news media (due to regional sensitivities).
President Donald Trump has defended Russian President Vladimir Putin a number of times in public, failing to call out the world leader for Russia's meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In fact, Trump has been tweeting about Putin since at least 2013, when he joked that Putin might become his "best friend." In the years since, he has called Putin "smart" and "tough."
The United States' security community's position, meanwhile, is that Russia does present a major national threat. A new national security strategy released in December details Russia's use of "information tools" to interfere with other nations' democracies. The document also references Russia's use of militant aggression and "modernized forms of subversive tactics."
Neller, the Marines' top general, is a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. While speaking to troops in Norway, he said that the region would increasingly become a focal point for the Marines, as less focus is placed on the Middle East:
I think probably the focus, the intended focus is not on the Middle East. The focus is more on the Pacific and Russia.
Even with the harsh words warning of a "big-ass" fight, there's no indication that Russia is eager to get into a fight with the U.S. The country has made it clear, however, that the Marine unit has put a strain on relations between Oslo and Moscow.
In June, after Norway announced that the U.S. Marines would remain in the country a year longer than originally planned, the Russian Embassy in Norway warned that the extended stay could "escalate tensions and lead to destabilization of the situation in the northern region."