The Norwegian defense ministry confirmed Wednesday that it will move ahead with a plan to bolster the number of U.S. Marines rotating through the country to 700, Reuters reported. The plan, first announced by Norway in June, has drawn sharp protests from Russian leaders who've called the move "clearly unfriendly."
The larger rotations are expected to start in 2019 and will last up to five years. Norwegian Defense Minister Frank Bakke-Jensen has said the move isn't directed at Russia, but to enhance NATO allies' cold-weather training.
About 300 Marines have been rotating through Norway every six months since January 2017. It's the first time foreign troops have been based in the country since World War II, according to Reuters. Members of the North Carolina-based 1st Battalion, 6th Marines, are deployed there now.
The Marines currently train west of the Swedish border in Oslo. Norwegian officials said in June that they want the larger Marine rotations to push north past the Arctic Circle to Setermoen, about 250 miles from the Russian border.
The Russian embassy hit back against that plan, warning that it could lead to "rising tensions and trigger an arms race, destabilizing the situation in northern Europe."
"We consider [the plan] to be clearly unfriendly so they cannot go without consequences," it added.
"I hope I'm wrong, but there's a war coming," Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said. " ... You're in a fight here, an informational fight, a political fight, by your presence."
-- Military.com's Hope Hodge Seck contributed to this report.