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Finland probes possible Russian GPS jamming during NATO exercises

U.S. Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker aircrew conduct preflight brief before takeoff during Exercise Trident Juncture 18, from Rovaniemi, Finland, Oct. 29, 2018. Exercise Trident Juncture is the largest NATO exercise since 2002, including 31 countries and more than 50,000 military members. (Senior Airman Luke Milano/U.S. Air Force)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Finland says it is investigating whether Russia has recently interfered with global positioning system (GPS) signals in the northern Finish region of Lapland during NATO war games, endangering civilian air traffic.

Prime Minister Juha Sipila made the announcement on November 11, days after Finland’s air-navigation services issued a warning for air traffic due to a large-scale GPS interruption in the north of the country.

Neighboring Norway issued a similar warning about loss of GPS signals for pilots in its own airspace at the end of the October, when NATO’s massive Trident Juncture military exercise kicked off.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman on November 12 said the Kremlin knows “nothing” about the disruption of the GPS signal.

“There is a trend to blame all mortal sins on Russia,” Dmitry Peskov said. “As a rule, these allegations are unfounded.”

The U.S.-based GPS system works by sending signals from satellites above the Earth back down to receivers. Russia has developed its own global navigation satellite system, Glonass.

“It’s possible Russia was behind the interference,” Sipila said in an interview on YLE Radio Suomi. “We’re now investigating it and will react accordingly.”

The goal of the alleged Russian interference was “to demonstrate the capabilities for such actions,” the prime minister also said.

“It’s no small matter, since civilian flights have been put in danger,” Sipila also said, adding that the incident should be taken as seriously as “airspace violations.”

Trident Juncture — NATO’s largest since the end of the Cold War — involved all 29 members of the Western alliance, plus partners Finland and Sweden.

The two-week war games took place close to Russia, in an area stretching from the North Atlantic Ocean to the Baltic Sea, amid persistent tension between the West and Moscow.

NATO said the drills mustered 50,000 troops, 250 aircraft, and around 65 ships in what Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg called a “strong display” of its capability, unity, and resolve at a time of growing danger in Europe.

The exercise drew criticism from Moscow, which seized Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and backs separatists in an ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine but accuses the alliance of provocative behavior near its borders.

Finland, which shares a 1,340-kilometer-long border with Russia, has recently developed closer ties with NATO but stopped short of full membership.