Norway said Russian forces have pulled back from its border in the Arctic, claiming the number of soldiers Moscow has there now is "20% or less" compared to the start of the Ukraine war.
"On our border, our region’s border there is maybe 20% or less forces, less than before Feb. 24, 2022," Norwegian Chief of Defense Gen. Eirik Kristoffersen said Saturday.
After a meeting of the chiefs of defense of NATO countries held in Oslo, Kristoffersen claimed at a press conference that Russian President Vladimir Putin "knows very well" that the alliance is not a threat against Russia. "Neither Norway, nor Sweden, nor Finland, nor Poland are threatening Russia," he said. "If he believed that we were threatening Russia, he couldn't have moved on his troops to Ukraine to fight the war there."
Norway, a NATO member since 1949 following the end of World War II, shares a border with Russia in the Artic by the Kola Peninsula, where most of the Kremlin's nuclear weapons are stationed, as well as its Northern Fleet, which operates Russia's nuclear submarines, according to Reuters.
If Russia believed NATO was a threat, chair of the NATO Military Committee, Adm. Rob Bauer, added, Moscow would have responded "completely different" to Finland’s induction into the alliance in April. "They have talked about it, but they haven't in physical terms," he said at the press conference.
Finland and Russia share an about 810-mile-long border.
"The reason why they have attacked Ukraine were democracy, freedom, rule of law and the fact that Ukraine more and more was wanting and willing and showing they were making their own decisions about their own future," Bauer continued. "And that is a danger if democracy settles more and more and becomes in the heart of the Ukrainian thinking, as we see, that is a danger to the Putin regime."
It was only weeks after the Russian invasion that Norway decided to move from sending nonlethal aid to anti-tank weapons and other support to Ukraine, Kristoffersen said.
"The Ukrainian people are fighting for their homeland, for their peace, freedom, and democracy," Kristoffersen said. "Our Ukrainian friends are also fighting a battle on all our behalf for a functioning rules-based world order, which Russia has challenged for years."
Kristoffersen noted the five Nordic countries have come together to host NATO allies to train and exercise, noting once Sweden is formally accepted into the alliance, "it will fundamentally change the way we look at defense and deterrence in NATO´s northern flank."
U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, arrived in Norway for NATO meetings that began Saturday focusing on the war in Ukraine.
Milley warned reporters that the recent meeting in Russia between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Putin will probably lead North Korea to provide Soviet-era 152 mm artillery rounds to Moscow. The top American military officer and the other defense chiefs from NATO countries are meeting at the Holmenkollen ski area on the edge of Oslo over the next several days to discuss support for Ukraine and other regional defense issues.
From there, Milley will attend the monthly meeting of the Ukraine Defense Contact Group in Germany on Tuesday. That group, led by U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, is the main international forum for drumming up military support for Ukraine.
The NATO meetings come as Ukraine forces are making slow progress, breaking through Russian battle lines in a counteroffensive that has not moved as quickly or as well as initially hoped, according to The Associated Press. Kyiv's leaders are lobbying for a new round of advanced weapons, including longer-range missiles.
Meanwhile, four F-35 fighter jets landed Thursday at an airbase in Denmark in the first installment of the U.S.-made planes ordered by the NATO member to replace its aging fleet of F-16s, some of which have been promised to Ukraine.
Last month, the two countries said they would donate F-16 aircraft to Ukraine, with Denmark pledging 19 and the Netherlands an unspecified number. Denmark said it would need to receive new F-35s first, and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in August that she hoped the first six F-16s could be handed over to Ukraine around New Year.
NATO member Norway also has indicated its intention to donate F-16s to Ukraine.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.